Tuesday, May 01, 2007

490. By myself

And after a toothache comes... many days of overtime to finish piles of work that took a back seat. I'm finally (almost) caught up.

I celebrated my emancipation from pain by leading the meditation service last Friday--by myself, more or less. (A friend sat next to me and sang two prayers. But I did everything else.) The usual custom at my synagogue is two leaders at each service, a brilliant idea: the experience becomes a collaboration rather than a performance, and each person gets to relax and pray a little while the other takes charge. But there's only one leader for some of the smaller services, or when not a single rabbi (out of five) is available. This was one of those rare occasions, and the first time I was that sole person.

The rabbi's assistant had emailed me a month ago asking if I could lead. I readily agreed, not realizing until later that he left out two key words: "by yourself." I thought the rabbi was a little nuts, but kept it to myself. Initially I planned to split the duties with my friend, but decided I'd take on the challenge as intended and pretend to show as much confidence in myself as everyone else seemed to have. I found my theme, all those things on earth and in life that persist and continue, in Netzah Shebenetzah, "endurance within endurance," the 25th night of counting the Omer. I chose appropriate lines from the service (Psalm 96: "God has steadied the world; it stands firm") and figured out what niggunim would best fit those lines. It was a great and weird sensation to decide (within limits) exactly what I wanted to do. Enormously paranoid, I wrote out a script complete with the number of minutes we'd sit in silence after each prayer and exactly when I had to say "you may be seated," and practiced until I could do it with my eyes closed.

Which I did, since I wanted this experience to be as calm for myself as (I hoped) for everyone else who didn't have to worry about announcing page numbers. I really needed a peaceful Shabbat at the end of my crappy week, a reminder that dental woes were never as enduring as the mountains or seas. Our little group sat in an empty Sanctuary bathed in as much silence as was possible on a busy Manhattan street, listening to each other's breaths, hearing our minds slow down. My prayer was astonishment and praise to God for taking me to this wonderful, unplanned place in life. (And gratitude for creating Alexander Fleming and his successors. Next Shabbat I plan to give additional thanks for the ability to bite into a bagel. Not quite there yet, but I have no doubt He'll come through.)

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