Thursday, October 16, 2008

738. Rosh Hashanah 5769, part 2

(Continued from here.)

On the second morning of Rosh Hashanah I was at the church, in imposing company--the rabbi with the beautiful voice, who pretty much saved my life (or at least my sanity) the year I had laryngitis, and the cantor, who was leading Musaf. Even though they are the two nicest, kindest, and gentlest people on the planet, their presence made me a little nervous. (I guess I haven't entirely gotten over myself.) This was the first time since the Annus Horribilis (to paraphrase Queen Elizabeth) that I helped lead in this particular combination. I could see the cantor, who sat in the congregation while I sang, every time I looked up from the mahzor. (He was at the Very Big Fancy Theater the day before, as well, but safely beyond my field of vision.) Not that I expected to see any expression of horror on his face, but it was relief when I did not. All went well, although I was very tired from the day before, and imagined I overcompensated by singing HaMelekh with too much drama, which left me less energy for everything else, causing some prayers to fizzle out like used balloons instead of soaring as they should. But I think this is all in my head. I struggled to give all of myself, but also found and grabbed on tightly to the wave of energy in the room, the magic floating laser beam of strength coming from those with whom I prayed, and sounded just fine.

I see now why I couldn't write the account of these Yamin Nora'im in chronological order, as I have over the past few years. I could think about the beginning, and the feeling of coming home, only after examining the end, and how I knew I was in the right place as I sang. The line from Handel's Messiah (and Malachi 3) comes to mind: "For he is like a refiner's fire." Maybe God burned out the dross, all the noise of preparation and nerves that got in the way, and left me with fewer obstacles in the way of understanding this experience. I don't yet, but perhaps the door is open.

I didn't do enough work before these holy days. I felt spiritually underprepared, my list of where I missed the mark long and uncategorized. I was overwhelmed, and didn't know where to begin to pray. But Yom Kippur emptied me just the same--I do now feel new and cleansed--although frayed edges remain, as always. I've forgiven myself for not being ready. I'll do better next year, or maybe just fail in different places. A little atoning goes a long way, I think, and at least I know my song reached somewhere new.

The buildup to the Yamim Nora'im is great, and the aftermath abrupt--the week always seems like a fleeting shadow, as in the Unetane Tokef. I wish I could better understand the journey as it happens, see through that shade, but what's really important happens on the other side. Now that I struggle so much less to let the music speak words I cannot, I'm slowly learning that singing is the same--a means and not the end, a path but not the destination.

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