(Continued from here.)
So, as I was saying:
"You can wear my tallit," said the cantor as he stood by the door. I saw the little blue bag on the table and unzipped it gingerly; wearing someone else's tallit seemed like a major invasion of personal space. What if I sweated on it? I could offer to take it to the dry cleaner after Shabbat. But these were special circumstances, and perhaps some of his vocal prowess had soaked into the fibers and would leap helpfully to my shoulder, assuming I could figure out how to wear the thing. It was enormous. The rabbi came over and carefully folded the front corners, and I once again felt like a baby bird about to be pushed from a nest. But this time I had really big wings.
My heart rate had jumped about 500%, to the extent that I was afraid a ventricle or two would pop out. "Take a deep breath," someone said. "I'll play quiet, calm, music," added the cantor, smiling, right before he opened the door.
We walked out front, the music started, I looked into few hundred expectant, calm faces, and suddenly I felt like I had been here all along. We seemed to occupy a little force-field of prayer, a zone of kavannah bookended by the rabbi and cantor with me lucky enough to step inside. Some of the tunes were a surprise (under usual circumstances, I find out a few of them five minutes before the service), but I caught on quickly. The tallit kept falling off my shoulders, which was just fine; the big, white drape hid my leggings and not-quite sweatshirt from view. Not that anyone but me was bothered by my causal attire.
The next day I caught up with the exercises, brilliant, bite-sized installments of spiritual preparation, in the great 60 Days book. Thursday's focus had been on taking initiaitive: Do something beautiful, and trust that God will respond. Elul is the month in which to voice love previously unexpressed, step into new light. It's an area where I need help; I tend to wait for things to happen, and procrastinate as long as possible before dealing with the results. I am rarely the one to initiate change. So when I re-read this page on Shabbat, I was confused. Leading on Friday night happened without any action on my part; what had I done to merit this reward? Why take initiative when beautiful things can, and do, happen on their own? I was there, is all, and the gifts I received were amazing.
But maybe that's the answer. I showed up--I made myself available, and open. Simply being present, both physically and emotionally, is a conscious choice. I may think life is just happening, but I'm opening the door so that it can.
Wishing everyone a sweet and peaceful Shabbat (where the only initiative you have to take is to decide if you want another slice of babka).