I just woke up. I don’t normally sleep until 12:38 p.m., but I’m sick. Some flu that’s going around. The symptoms are like fireworks, each is more spectacular and surprising than the last. And now….the grand finale!
This evening begins Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. It begins a period of ten days called “the days of awe,” concluding with Yom Kippur, that require Jews to reflect on their lives, recognize their mistakes, and attempt to reconcile, repair, and renew themselves and their relationships. There’s also a giant ram’s horn that is blown in synagogue, during services. Seriously, how hardcore is that? It does not sound pretty.
I’m a lay cantor. The “lay” part means that I lead services with the rabbi, even though I didn’t go to cantorial school (a five year graduate program). The “cantor” part means that I’m the one who does all (or most of) the singing. It also means that I’m a religious and spiritual leader. The musical liturgy is in Hebrew. In fact, I even get to sing calls to the people blowing the shofars, and the instruments will bellow back their replies. It’s a very interesting dialogue. I always love it. My voice (which is naturally sort of sweet and warm, despite all my efforts to make it dark and deep and mysterious), calling out in the silence, from the bima (the alter), and the harsh returning cry of the shofarot, which obey all of my commands. There is a vocal command for the length of each of their sounds, and for the number of sounds they will make. Girl and ancient ram’s horn ensemble. The interaction of these sounds is an epiphany. It’s a transformation. It’s only very, very recently, historically, that women have participated in traditional organized monotheistic religion. And even more recently that women have led congregations. It may not feel radical anymore, because we as individuals are so quick to adjust and so ephemeral. But it IS radical. The voice of a girl playing with the voices of the ritual instruments, calling back and forth, is something strange and new and daring and simultaneously completely right, as though it always should have been that way.
So tonight I will stand in front of my congregation and sing. And right now I’m lying in bed with my laptop, feeling like I might not be able to move. It’s a good thing the theme of this time of year is transformation. I’m going to need a lot of that. And a lot of that nasal spray stuff.
I love change. I love that life is all about movement and weird surprises and forgetfulness and learning new tricks. And I like the opportunity to reflect back on my life. I’m one of those people who has always kept a journal. And one of the things I’ve always done in it is write letters to myself. They’re usually composed of questions. I address the letters to an older self, and I instruct myself when I am allowed to respond. “Dear Kate, age 35:” and so on. But here is a letter to myself of today and the past year. And to all of you of today and over the past year. If you aren’t Jewish, that doesn’t mean you can’t think about how you’d like to answer these questions.
What are some of the most important lessons you’ve learned this year?
What is a new skill you’ve acquired?
Did you do something big that you never thought you’d be able to? What was it?
What do you find beautiful about yourself that you didn’t before this year?
Who did you grow to love even more?
Who did you grow to love or appreciate for the first time?
Who impacted you in a profoundly positive way?
Who surprised you?
Who infuriated you? Have you been able to come to terms with it?
Who hurt you? Have you been able to forgive them?
What do you recognize in yourself that you want to work to improve?
What food did you discover? Or what food did you grow to love?
What negative thing have you let go of?
What is something you’re truly sorry for?
Who did you really hurt? Did you tell them you’re sorry?
What goal did you accomplish? (It’s OK if it’s something “small”)
What are you really looking forward to?
What is one of your favorite things about your life, looking back?
I discovered chocolate peanut butter cookies from Levain bakery on 73rd. They are without a doubt the best cookies in the world. And I grew to love avocado. I’m sorry for letting my friendship with my friend Sarah slip away. I started putting my words out into the world, through blogging. That’s been a longtime goal, though I didn’t know what form it would take. I was surprised by Bear, my fiance, who I met a little over a year ago. I think my eyebrows are beautiful. I never really noticed them before now. My favorite thing about my life over the past year has been falling in love, and the amount of happiness I’ve experienced that before this was just a vague fantasy about happiness.
And now I’m going to drink some cough syrup and think about transformation some more. I’ll answer the rest of the questions to myself. But if you’d like, feel free to share some of, or all of, your answers with me.
We’re pretty amazing, us people, with our complicated, thrilling, mundane, passionate lives. Devoting some days of awe to us is really not a bad idea.
(yup. that’s a shofar. source)
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Un-roast: You know, my eyebrows
P.S. Happy birthday to my baby brother, who is eighteen today! He has had to sit through a lot of Rosh Hashanah services on his birthday…..