I wasn't feeling well last night and had to skip services, which made me sad. I yearn all week long for Friday night, and the singing, dancing, and company of a few hundred of the best people in the world, although sometimes the idea of sitting with nothing but music and my thoughts for an hour and a half seems unbearable. But I can't imagine being anywhere else. Services are the best and safest place I know to experience joy or despair, concentration or distraction; Kabbalat Shabbat is never less than sanctuary for me in all senses of the word.
But it doesn't work as well when you have a stomach ache. I stayed home and lit candles instead, which I often skip. (In cat-endowed New York City, I know God would also advise against the folly--the sheer stupidity--of leaving home while a fire is burning.) I sat on the sofa for awhile and watched them sway and glimmer, and then davenned Arvit. I've prayed this service on my own before and it always felt like a novelty, superfluous: God already knew what was in my heart, so why bother following rituals whose main purpose was to engage groups? And singing to myself when I was alone: like a falling tree without an audience, did it really matter?
This time it did. As I faced east towards Central Park and Jerusalem and my eyes traced letters and watched them change into words, I thought of the tunes, sighs, and smiles just like my own at this very same moment wherever Jews chose to congregate. I felt far from those people and places, but with them, deeply, as well. I was relieved; always in the back of my mind lurked a doubt that I'd wake up one day and would no longer believe, would be back to the hollower, blinder person I was before I stumbled upon my synagogue. I now understand that distance, whether physical or emotional, will never break my bond. It might loosen, perhaps, or try to slip off, but the threat will always be hollow. I felt connected like a twin who always senses the presence of the other even when they're on opposite ends of the earth; the candles bathed my walls in the light of many more Jews than could ever fit in my apartment.
I watched the flames and read Psalm 97:
Your lightning illumines the globe, fire consumes Your foes.
Mountains melt like wax in Your presence, the earth trembles.
The heavens proclaim Your righteousness;
all people behold Your majesty.
They were right in front of me--the dancing illumination, the melting wax mountains--just like so many other gifts I choose to ignore, or am afraid to see.