I went to synagogue tonight with Aviva and Pearl. We rarely go for regular Friday night services, but I had heard that tonight a Jewish Renewal rabbi who’s a candidate for a new position would be leading the service, and I was curious to check out her presence and style.
We arrived just after it had begun. After Pearl rummaged through a small basket by the door, choosing a satin blue kippah to place over her newly shorn hair, the three of us made our way to a couple of empty seats in the small sanctuary. My eyes caught the eyes of a couple of familiar and welcoming faces as we got settled. We sat down, Aviva next to me, Pearl on my lap.
After about fifteen minutes, the girls got restless and went to play in the big hall-like room. I didn’t really bother trying to follow the service closely; the prayerbooks aren’t transliterated, and my Hebrew isn’t good enough to keep up. So mostly I just sang along where I could or was moved to, and closed my eyes, and then, when it was time, stood up for a few minutes of silent prayer, or reflection. Same thing really, no?
And the tears came, as I knew they would. I stood there, hands over my eyes as the tears came rolling out in perfect formation, dropping from my down-turned cheeks straight down to the floor. And all of a sudden, I felt a presence next to me, then a hand on my back, an arm around my waist. Warmth.
I opened my eyes and saw my friend Sherry on my right, and then realized Sue was on my left. Both had seen that I was in pain, and come to be nearby. To hold me in that place, so difficult to be in and yet so necessary to move through. After we sat back down, Sue whispered in my ear: “I think I have one of your poems in my head,” then promised to tell me what she meant later. She offered to give me space or to sit down beside me; I welcomed the latter.
After the service ended, another friend, Sharon, came to wish me Shabbat Shalom and to give me a hug. I told her I couldn’t talk about what was going on, not there, not now, not yet. She put her forehead up against mine and said, “You are so, so loved.” At which point I left the room to go splash cold water on my face alone in the bathroom.
Through great pain, we get to experience how so, so loved we are.
Through blindsiding changes in our lives, we learn how strong and flexible our spheres are, the ones that hold us, hold us in, keep us from spinning out into chaos.
When something seismic occurs, a kind of spiritual and practical triage kicks in. We let certain obligations go, have breakfast for dinner, focus on keeping it together as the dust settles and we regain clear seeing.
Through being seen, we are witnessed as we break open. As we emerge. As life as we knew it ends and we are in the dark time before something new comes into being. We realize we can survive. We can do this thing that seems impossible, confusing, shattering, and healing all at once. Nothing makes sense; the mind wants to override the body and the feelings come with such force that rational thought has to be put aside when the waves come crashing down.
It is Rosh Chodesh tonight, the night of the new moon, a time when traditionally, Jewish women gather, connect, and mark life passages. The darkness contains all that is to come. We cannot see the moon, but we still believe in its presence, believe that it will grow full once again. This, I guess, is the definition of faith.
A week or so ago, early one morning, I had a dream about waves rolling in. Big ones, little ones, threatening ones, harmless ones. I was standing on the shore with some other people. That was all. Just watching them come in and go out.
Someday, I will tell the story of this past week and how it connects to my larger story. Someday, I will sit in a sanctuary and spot the woman on the other side of the room who is in so much turmoil, who needs a hand on the small of her back, a strong presence, some tenderness.
Everything will change, again and again. Except for the waves. And the moon. The women gathering. The promise of a dark sky.