Thursday, February 21, 2008

636. Singing through stone

(I'm aiming for a post for every day of the year... a little different than posting every day of the year. So I'm catching up, and don't think I've fallen off the wagon just yet...)

Some thoughts about the shiva minyan I led last week:

Grief is such a strange country, its ground covered by thicket even though everyone pretends the road is clear. At this minyan, as at others I've led, family members of the deceased greet me with intensity, look me straight in the eye, and in a big rush tell me me the details of their week--but they are actually not focused on me at all. They seem to be looking right through me to everyone else who sat in their living room during this week of shiva, and possibly at people who attended the funeral, as well. I am like a sponge catching words they've tried to squeeze out for days, and at this particular moment no tears happen to stand in the way. I introduce myself as "not a rabbi" and think I can hear a few sighs of relaxation in the room. I wonder what the older man with the long beard in the corner is thinking. I sing with confidence, wanting to create solid ground upon which sadness can pool and relax. The family stands close to me, and I make sure to turn pages when they do, not too fast, not too slow.

Everyone in this room is so tense. I have very little to do, but it's much harder than leading services when I'm standing at a rabbi's side--I feel like I'm trying to sing through stone. I try to conjure up images of deep color, fire, anything that can help convince my sound to become as warm as possible. In some ways I feel like a voyeur, and that I've taken the easy way out--this is not my grief, I don't even know these people. But they are part of my world, my community, and I am honored and grateful to be invited into their lives. I listen to stories about the deceased, a remarkable woman who filled her life with music, language, and love. I recognize this kind of person--many members of my congregation are from the same mold, refusing to follow the crowd, making new roads. I want to be like her when I grow up.

And at the end the old man with the beard comes over to thank me and shake my hand.

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