(Continued from here.)
I don't really know what I sound like. The only recent recording I have of myself was made when I first helped lead on Shabbat morning, and was presented (gently and kindly) as evidence of my singing flat. Which I haven't done since (or at least no one has called me on it). I don't want to hear myself praying after the fact; the moment itself is what counts. Perhaps because I'm not used to the audio-processed me, I have an uneasy relationship with stage monitors and how to distinguish the sound in my head from the one coming out of the speakers. What I heard at my feet on Yom Kippur afternoon, courtesy of a brilliant mixing guy, was strong and confident even as I felt unsure and depleted. I liked that voice; I wanted to be that person. I thought of the rabbi's words on Shabbat Shuvah about witnesses--and here were a thousand, sitting and listening, to whom I owed the truth of being myself. So I tried to match my inside to that outside, and make reality fit perception.
I thought of my voice as an offering, and tried to sing with every single cell of my body and leave nothing behind, like the burnt korbanot in the Temple. I didn't pray the words in the machzor during the silent Amidah, but hid under my tallit instead and asked God for the strength to see and hear.
Once I listened more carefully to the monitor, I recognized the same voice as always. But I knew something had changed.
I went back into the congregation for Ne'ila and sat down next to some friends on one side, and a woman I didn't know on the other. She turned to me after the last blast of the shofar and told me her husband, a cantor, had died last year. She heard him in my voice, she said, and when I sat next to her she knew it even more. She hugged me; we cried. Lots of people came over to shake my hand, and looked me straight in the eye in a way they hadn't before.
A friend emailed the next day: "You made aliyah. You were a different person after the service than before." My first reaction was anger: no, I'm still me and I'm OK just the way I am, thank you! But perhaps I'm more visible. It is easier, relatively speaking, to be more aware than usual when stripped bare, when hungry, tired, tied in emotional knots, and surrounded by a great sound system. I need to be that person when I'm sated, comfortable, complacent, distracted. When I'm working, writing, creating art, in a place not defined by the presence of a sefer Torah. Whatever I found on Yom Kippur afternoon--what if I lose it again? The prospect is sad. I don't want to think about it. I don't know where I'm going, or why, or what's taking me there, but do know I want to live the way I sang at Minha: freely, generously, without fear.