Sunday, February 22, 2009

786. Foreign place

Yesterday I chanted for the first time in quite awhile, three aliyot and the haftarah for Shabbat Shekalim (in honor of which I wore dangly coin earrings, homage to the gabbai who coordinates his ties with the weekly parasha). It was the first Shabbat since the end of shloshim, so I didn't stand for Mourner's Kaddish. This felt strange, clandestine, as if I had escaped before my allotted time. But also a big relief; reality had resumed. Having an aliyah (traditional for the person who chants haftarah) was a like seal on that state, the honor acknowledgment that I was now ready to give of myself once again rather than only being able to take. I felt very strong when I sang, and tried to put as much power as possible out into the universe to make up for the emptiness that followed me around for many days. I felt cleansed afterwards, energized. Like the line I chanted, I remembered what it was like to be alone:

You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of the stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt.
—Exodus 23:9

The daily world is a foreign place to inhabitants of the country of grief. We are isolated during communal prayer, baffled by simple things like joy. But we learn from the experience of being a stranger, and when the period of mourning is over can understand the importance of ritual in a whole new way in order to give support to other new, unwilling citizens.

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