On the eve of Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year, we celebrate the Kol Nidre service. Kol Nidre is an ancient part of the liturgy that means "all vows." It is chanted to a haunting melody, and it sets the tone for this holy day when we fast and pray and engage in communal repentance. It is a day when we act like the angels, when the veils between heaven and earth are thin, when nothing stands between us and God.
In 1986, on the Yom Kippur following the death of my cousin Paul in a freak avalanche, our rabbi spoke of how sometimes the forgiveness goes both ways: not only do we need to ask forgiveness for our sins but we may also need to forgive God. 2010 was also one of those years, but I didn't want to face it.
Rabbi Alan Lew wrote a wonderful book about the High Holidays called, This is Real and You are Completely Unprepared. Never was that more true of me. I was completely unprepared for what it would mean to step into Yom Kippur's holy space, and when I did, I experienced one of the strongest storms of emotion I have ever felt.
Journal Entry 9.17.10
I am in synagogue. We got there a little late and G had trouble getting settled so I barely made it in before the recitation of Kol Nidre. Teenagers sit in the row right in front of us and they are quite distracting. I am not much present to the service. We get to the heart of the service, the Amidah, the standing prayer when we pray silently. I stare at the shiviti, a beautiful calligraphic representation of the Amidah, that shows open gates. I stand with my tallit on my shoulders. I read the introductory prayer, Adonai sefatai tiftach ufi yagid tahilatecha (Open my lips, Beloved One, and let my mouth declare your praise), and whoosh...I open. Cracked open with a strong & powerful force. The teenagers have left. I grip the seat in front of me. Breathing in I say, "for," breathing out, "give." My mind wanders a little but I stay with it...for. give...for. give...for. give...and then I am done.
I open my eyes and close out the Amidah in the traditional fashion: I bow, take three steps back, and sit down. I cry, crying, crying, not so many tears but sobs coming from my abdomen, hiccups. The teenagers return. The choir sings an unfamiliar song. I can no longer stand it in there. I leave, suddenly in a rush to get outside. I sit on a bench, lean over face in hands. The sobs come fast, gusting out. They cannot be contained. My cries are audible. They wrack my whole body. I fear they will never end. I do not have many thoughts to go with the tears. My only thoughts are of my discomfort in doing this semi-publicly even though no one else is outside. I try to stay with my breath and body. I try to trust. I am aware of my trust and of my trust betrayed. I am mad at God. I am mad at God for putting me through this latest trial. I am mad at God for all the pain of others. I am mad at God for how hopeless I feel about all our brokenness. I am tired. I am mad. I am mad about all the suffering. Way too much suffering. And I barely think these thoughts. I just sob. One very big wave is cresting.
I sit up and I open my eyes, slowly returning a little bit. I feel my seat under me. I feel the patio under my feet. I hear the slow crickets and katydids. I am drawn to the synagogue walls. I decide to sit on the ground with my back against the outer wall of the Ark. A long fresh round of tears comes. I sit, looking at the trees and car lights moving through the leaves and branches, sitting in a bed of stones with the wall against my back and my tallit wrapped around me. Will I ever be ready to return indoors? And then I am.
Another round of tears threaten when I'm back in my seat but I fight them off. We're doing the Al Cheyt, confessional prayer. I am silent. I am sullen. I do not let words of our sins cross my lips. I have had enough. I am beat up enough. This year I am not prepared to confess anything, but gradually I do hear the truth of the words. Maybe a little seeps through. Maybe tomorrow I'll be ready for the Al Cheyt. I do love it.
I remain tight and sullen through the rest of the service. I stare at the memorials. The choir sings Ahat Sha'alti, so beautifully. I wrap myself tightly in my tallit and tears run over and little sobs will not be contained. I sit awaiting a silence that never arrives. I know that it is time to go, but I do not want to be with anyone, see anyone. I quickly exit and sit by the car, wondering if I'm ready to be in the car with the others. They are slow to come, and when they finally do, I am ready. I still feel a bit split open but I am ready. Before I know it, I find myself laughing and talking too; the storm has passed.
I found that none of my Halia-inspired artwork seemed to go with this post, so I went to look at my collages from 2007 to see if any of them fit. I had a vague recollection of one with a giant wave. Made on June 21, 2007, exactly three years to the day before Halia's stillbirth.
Day 30 of 31, 27 Cheshvan 5774