I was rushing, later than I planned, panicking over a missed self-imposed arrival time. I was late for a petty reason I abhor – can’t decide what to wear – and then my inability to walk away from unwashed dishes or the bathroom floor that all of a sudden demanded immediate swiffering. Stupid. And when I’m late, anxiety sets in, even in the absence of consequences; simply the act of rushing becomes my pavlovian panic bell. I’m trying to practice deep breathing as I hike up seven flights of stairs, not knowing that the Rosh Hashanah services I’m searching for are on the second floor. Note: Should really include floor number on direction sign instead of merely “Stairs to services”.
I find a seat, saving one for my even later friend, and close my eyes, trying to find a width for prayer, for calmness to open a connection for spirituality. But after 20 minutes in a sparsely filled women’s section of dry chanting and mumbled Hebrew, I’m inching towards the door. To the background of the shofar, I wondered what I was expecting? I don’t belong to a shul, and no place ever seems to have the right ingredients of passion, holiness, music, meaning, familiarity and community to deliver the warm “Lauren” specialty I crave. No service is going to deliver instant fulfillment, light bulb moments flashing by the second. I keep my tush in my chair and try to locate my own door to spirituality. But then I followed the trail of congregants into an ‘alternative class’ and while fighting the ‘bad Jew’ guilt of opting for lecture over services; I shifted in the hard plastic chairs and found what I was looking for.
With humor and the casual manner of a young Rabbi, this man captured my attention and spoke with an honesty that struck me deep into the place of stirring change and motivating action. He made the day come alive, brought G-d into this Day of Judgment, and handed me old lessons rewrapped to fit the missing pieces in my life today. He spoke of pausing to take stock, and the gift of a Judgment that withholds decrees for another ten days. He made it personal, telling tales of his own neurotic craziness and how he wants turn to G-d before the crisis and not only once disaster has brought him to his knees.
There was more during the hour I listened; more lessons I wish I could have jotted down, knowing that there were too many jewels lacing his words and that they would blend and fade by the time I got home. I forced myself to simply be, to stop taking stock myself, to wait until later to ponder the places in my life that need renovating, the lessons that I still haven’t learned. But the catch phrase that keeping bouncing between my brain, even two days later, is this: Are you willing to be ‘woken up’ no matter what? Even if it means suffering and pain, loss and tears? This was why I came to services that day. This is what I needed to hear – again. This is the lesson that burrows between my routines and widens the doorways of holiness. It’s time to wake up –no matter how many fears and scrapes that journey may hold. With gratitude, I head home, eyes wide open, opting for a contemplative afternoon at the park rather than mindless errands that all can wait. I head home blessed with the next week to sift through my prior days and pull out the weeds by the root. I know that the motivation will dissipate and pearls of wisdom will get lost in the shuffle. I still find myself distracted with moving and organizing just hours later, and remind myself that change still counts even in small increments.
But the teacher arrived, and I was in my seat. In a room full of strangers, I was among community as I found exactly what I was looking for.