It is extraordinarily strange to have people, well-intention to be sure, constantly ask how you are feeling. To continually have to express one's emotions, when they are already a jambalaya, is....how shall I put this politely....exhausting.
And yet that is exactly what everybody around me has been inquiring for over a month. There is an expectation that I have a wonderfully prepared and articulate answer that will either satisfy their own sensibilities or will shed some illumination on why I have chosen to put an exclamation point on my career on the bimah. I am neither criticizing nor am I ridiculing these wonderful and caring individuals. There has been a real depth of emotional outpouring from my congregation over my retirement, and I love and respect each and every person who has sent me cards, emails, Facebook messages and the like. But, it has been extremely difficult to put into words exactly how I am "feeling".
I awoke this morning with full awareness that today was my last service acting as Cantorial Soloist. I have long approached this date on the calendar with excitement rather than wistfulness, and I was determined to make this Shabbat one of which I could look to with pride. The universe had a different plan. It was almost as if God dispatched a variety of gremlins into my world today just to see how I might react to my own personal shitstorm.
First, there was the asthma attack that awakened me at 5:00am. There is absolutely nothing that compares with coughing up a lung before sunrise. I love the smell of Ventolin in the morning.
Next, there was the small matter of dozing back to sleep after my near-suffocation, and almost sleeping through services. As I dashed around the house gathering all of my necessary belongings, I spilled hot tea all over the kitchen counter. Hooray for first-degree burns!! Nothing says Shabbat like Polysporin.
I ran out to my car only to discover that it refused to recognize my fob and basically told me to "F*** off. We will leave when I say it's time to leave." No amount of head meeting steering wheel, expletives uttered, or fob exchanges would entice my sweetheart of an automobile to turn over her goddamned engine. After almost ten minutes of pleading and bargaining with a machine that I am certain has had its soul possessed by Satan, she decided that she had played chicken with me for long enough and started, just in time for me to make it synagogue on time. Or was it?
You see...in my aggravated state, I left my backpack with all of my books, music, and tallit sitting on the stairs at home. I promptly called The Husband, recounted my tale of woe, and asked him to meet me in the driveway with the backpack because I was too afraid to turn off the car, lest she find another reason to f*** me over.
I got into the office exhausted and not at all ready to be an active participant in the service, but I was determined.
"It's the last one," I kept thinking.
"It can't be worse than it has already been, can it?"
I ascend the bimah and collect my thoughts. I am having some serious flashbacks to some of those early services.
"How far we have journeyed together."
"Remember that time when....."
I strum the opening chord of Ma Tovu and begin to sing.....
I almost blow the entire congregation into Olam Haba because some dumb fuck has been fiddling with our sound system and my mic is turned up to Dolby-intense levels. And what's worse is that nobody can figure out how to fix it because the cabinets are locked. A couple of lovely gentlemen spend a good half hour looking for the keys and trying to determine which of the inputs is mine. In the meantime I am leaning over the lectern microphone just hoping not to strain a back muscle.
I spent the rest of the service looking inward and asking the Holy Spirit if this was His idea of fun? I could swear I heard quiet chortles of laughter coming out of the ark.
We managed to get through the rest of the morning without too much more fuss. We linked our arms for the Motzi and just like that twenty years was in the books.
How am I feeling? Relieved that nobody lost a limb or was injured.
I feel blessed. Blessed to have had the backing of such wonderful people. Blessed to have been able to share music in such a meaningful way. Blessed that I am leaving while they still like me. Blessed in the knowledge that there will be many more adventures to share with my friends and family at Kol Ami.
One last thought. I did have a bit of a Joni Mitchell moment this morning. As I looked into the congregation, I noted that there were 4 people in the crowd today who were actually in attendance for my very first service. I went over to them all and hugged them and we shared a moment and a few tears. It really has come full circle.
And the seasons they go round and round
And the painted ponies go up and down
We're captive on a carousel of time
We can't return we can only look
Behind from where we came
And go round and round and round
In the circle game.