Happy middle of Sukkot! Too many holidays in a row. Too much work to do in the few days between them all. Is it Shabbat, or Thursday? Who can tell? My brain is tired, full of joy, and a little confused. Which is a good thing.
(Continued from here.)
I had hoped the three-mile walk would be meditative, and considered leaving my house even earlier to go via via Central Park. But waking up in the dark knocked some sense in me, and I opted for the shortest route. I also didn't want to walk too quickly for fear of getting thirsty, already a problem since I had a big deli-style pickle with my overstuffed turkey sandwich the night before.
I'm not good at casual strolling, and got to the Very Big, Fancy Theater 40 minutes early. I changed out of my running shoes and waited in the dressing room, which featured a live video feed of the stage on a big screen hanging from the wall. At 8:40 I heard the ushers counting off: "Door 7? Back of house? All ready?" And then, "Go!" The doors opened, and... one lone man carrying a tallit bag ambled into the edge of the frame. We were definitely not at a Bruce Springsteen concert.
I stood in the doorway and waited for someone else to arrive, too nervous to sit down. By 8:50 I began to wonder if Yom Kippur was perhaps some other day, and I had mistakenly slept for 24 hours in a row. Then I recalled the general custom, and tabled my paranoia for another time. A minute later, of course, everyone walked through the door calm, smiling, and ready for hours and hours of gut-wrenching prayer.
The house, bathed in shades of brown and gold, was enormous, the ceiling stratospheric, but the stage, with bima and Ark, wasn't very high up. So the effect was also intimate, a post-modern cathedral reaching towards heaven with everyone huddled together in solidarity down below. Two monitors sat at our feet, and a sound engineer fiddled with dials in the back. After a minute or two, I realized that no matter how quietly I sang or where I stood in relationship to the microphone, I would be heard perfectly. This, for some reason, was an enormous relief; I felt all the tension leave my shoulders. The room suddenly felt very safe, and not big at all.
The seats filled up slowly; for awhile I could hear no one else, as if the rabbi and I were just exchanging prayers with each other. But then the energy level began to rise. I don't understand what I felt, or how, but it happened, like were were all stuck together with glue and moving forward in a big clump of kavannah. Sometimes prayer flows like water, or tears. Sometimes it seems to drift by like a cloud. On Yom Kippur morning, prayer was like coaxing and cajoling my cat to come out from under the bed after a thunderstorm. God was a little shy, and we had to be gentler than usual. As the day wore on, all the words seemed to be just two: Shema Koleinu. Please hear us. It is amazing to me that even though we prayed the same words day after day, their meaning was a little different each time--just like the Torah, whose stories change along with our lives.
On a completely different topic, I will miss dear Regina Clare Jane, who has decided to stop blogging for awhile. Her visits and comments these past two years were a real blessing, kindness and encouragement shining through every word. If you're reading this--please know that you have made such a big difference in my life, and I hope to see you around this Internet place again soon.