Yesterday I gave the first of three performances of my Senior Recital, a requirement for graduation from Hebrew College, at Congregation Agudath Israel in Caldwell, New Jersey where I was born and raised. What a whirlwind day! Several hours of anxiousness later, seventy minutes of performance went by so quickly I barely remember it all…
But the most moving moment I had yesterday? The quiet before the storm.
As the audience of over 100 (some report close to 150) filed into the sanctuary where I was going to perform, I took a few moments for myself in the chapel – to collect myself, to breathe, to think, to meditate. Really, I’m not a big meditator. As I sat in the dark, I found myself staring at the chapel’s beautifully carved wooden ark.
“I remember staring at that ark when my dad would lead services and I could barely see over the shulchan (reader’s table),” I said to myself. Suddenly, I felt tears welling up. “It hasn’t changed in twenty years.” The ark hasn’t, even through two renovations. I have.
Idiomatically the classical Jewish sources, leading services is called “Descending before the Ark.” I remember leading services before that ark. I remember before I could lead a whole service, just leading Alénu and Yigdal at the end of services in front of it. I remember trying to figure out which holiday each of the symbols represented, and tracing the windy carving all the way around.
“Who would have thought then that I’d be doing this?” I said aloud to the dark room. Suddenly I knew how far I’d come.
In the moments before I stepped out in front of the audience, I wasn’t feeling as anxious. I wasn’t stressed. Sure, my heart was beating out of my chest – but not because I had any doubt in myself. As I looked around the room for the first time, I saw friendly faces. I saw the way they looked at me – expecting, kvelling, seeing me for differently than they saw me in whatever part of my life in which they met me for the first time. Welcoming me to the mouth of the long tunnel that has been this journey.
I am a work in progress. I am found.