(Continuing this story...)
I felt like I was caught in magnetic field of drums all pushing and pulling the beat in search of equilibrium. I waited for the rabbi to jump in with a verse, but his focus was on the tapestry of rhythm he was trying to weave with the drummer to my left. So I kept singing, and suddenly it seemed I wasn't following the musicians, but they me. It was like that moment when you're on a two-wheeler for the first time, and your father lets go of the back wheel and you keep flying down the sidewalk faster and faster, sure you're going to crash. I panicked, imagining a runaway train without brakes. This was the rabbi's job, not mine, to sense when the energy of the congregation began to shift and then slow the tempo accordingly. But we were nowhere near that point. I could see, out of the corner of my eye, hands on either side beating on drumskins, fast as the wings of birds.
For an instant I didn't know where I was. Who are all these people? I looked up from the siddur--why are they smiling? Oh--they're listening. We're creating this together. I kept singing, wondering when we'd return to earth.
At that moment the rabbi joined in, just a little quieter than I, and then slower. I never really had any doubt that he'd catch us. Like a pilot coming in for a landing, he sang slower and softer until we were back to a calm place.
I'll be helping lead services once again this Friday, and that's probably it until next year--over the summer there are almost too many rabbis to go around. I don't know yet if I'll be needed for the High Holy Days this fall. I hope so.