Wednesday, March 18, 2009

802. Air

Back to our regularly scheduled blog about spiritual stuff:

As I mentioned last Monday, I led a shiva minyan immediately prior to chanting part of Megillat Esther. I had been worried about timing--the minyan was just a few blocks away, but began only an hour before I had to be at services, which were 15 minutes away. And I needed about 15 minutes to put on my costume. (Leading a minyan while wearing a green wig would not be appropriate.) This left 1/2 hour for tefillah, not much time, especially since it's the custom at my synagogue to spend a few minutes at each minyan sharing stories about the deceased

"It's almost the end of the week, and they've had a minyan each night," said the woman from the Hevra Kadisha. "I'm sure they won't have much to say." She promised to alert the family beforehand about my schedule.

But I didn't want anyone to feel rushed. A shiva minyan doesn't happen in a normal human timescale; when it's your shiva minyan, it seems to take forever while also happening instantaneously. And I wasn't chanting until chapter 4, so would be in good shape even if a half hour late. We began five minutes early, the mourners, incredibly gracious, trying to stay on schedule for my behalf. Then we reached the speaking part, and there was indeed much to say. A woman had lost her husband; a daughter, her stepfather. How could a whole life fit in just seven days of memories? I had the sense that this family was only beginning to learn how to speak of these things, and that every night of shiva brought more pent-up words and tears. The week was almost over; they knew the drill by now. There was none of the awkwardness I had noticed on those other occasions when I led the first service following a funeral. The family spoke for many minutes and then, like a balloon speeding untethered around a room until the air was gone, all words were spent and we sat in silence.

I said goodbye and ran back home, put on my wig, and entered a world just as surreal and topsy-turvy as that of someone who had just lost the love of her life.

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