So at about 6:59:30PM last Friday I was minding my proverbial business, sitting towards the end of a row with friends waiting for 7PM services to start. The sanctuary was almost filled, even the balcony, this being the week when everyone returned from summer vacation to gear up for the resumption of real life. I was beginning to feel the tension in my shoulders release, Shabbat starting to work its way into my veins like a slowly dripping IV of calm.
Then I looked to my left and, as if dropped from the sky, there was the cantor, kneeling in the aisle. Before I could think, how strange, he smiled and said,
"Do you want to lead?"
I opened my mouth to respond, but my brain wasn't fast enough; nothing came out. All I could manage was, "Now?" He gestured for me to go up front, and I put my bag on my seat and asked my friends to watch it. I think I did this because it seemed like a usual sort of response, and everything else about this moment defied reason. I bolted into the robing room behind the bima, and stood there for a moment with no idea what to do.
The other leader had a sudden toothache, and couldn't make it. Certainly any of our rabbis can lead services alone, but that's not our minhag. There are generally two people at the bima, trading off the singing of each prayer between them and, if we're lucky, the cantor at the keyboard.
"You don't have to do it if you don't want to!" said the rabbi as I was busy flipping though the siddur to remember where we started. "Page 252," she added helpfully, reminding me that I'd heard this page number announced ever Friday evening for the past ten years. But I'm here already, I can't leave! I thought. Then I remembered I hadn't vocalized at all that day, and my siddur with the little tabs on the pages and pencilled notes to remember to breathe and keep my shoulders up was at home on the shelf.