I've had three long Skype dates recently with my friend and colleague David Curiel. David is an ALEPHnik who will be leading services alongside me during the Days of Awe. So far we've worked our way through planning services for both days of Rosh Hashanah, plus Kol Nidre, plus about half of Yom Kippur morning. (Our next call is scheduled for a few days from now.)
Each time we connect via Skype, we go through the machzor page by page: okay, this prayer, what do we want to do for this one? How about, you sing the first paragraph, I'll read the second paragraph, you sing the closing line. Or: I'll lead this one with guitar. Or: this one's all you. And so on, and so on. Slowly but surely my machzor is filling up with sticky tabs and pencil markings.
As a result my mind is overrun with high holiday melodies. The nusach, the specific melodic modes unique to these days. The individual melodies we'll be using for this prayer or that one. The niggun (wordless Hasidic melody) I want to use a few times during the service. Shir Yaakov's new setting for Rabbi Rami Shapiro's We Are Loved, which we're planning to teach.
And yet we're barely past Tisha b'Av. I still don't know what my Rosh Hashanah sermon is going to be about. It's peach season, corn season, the season of crickets and cicadas singing their rising-and-falling summertime song.
So many competing impulses at this moment in the year. I want August to last forever: so I can splash with Drew at Margaret Lindley pond, so we can eat ice pops on the deck after dinner, so I can revel in the harvest gloriousness of the Berkshires at this time of year. Corn and peaches and basil. The rustle of the deep green leaves. And yet I'm looking forward, anticipating what's next. Like a kid who's too restless to sleep, knowing that school starts soon. Excited and reluctant.
So many competing responses at this time of the year. I'm eager for the Days of Awe, for the sounds of the season, the taste of challah drizzled with honey, my parents' annual visit, the introspection of the teshuvah process. I'm anxious about the Days of Awe: so many people come to shul then who don't come at any other time of year! What if we don't give them what they need? Is there anything we could do to make them want to come back, to immerse more frequently in these waters?
There's always the reminder that my own teshuvah work needs to be paramount. If I don't do the discernment of figuring out where I'm missing the mark, then I miss the opportunity to do better -- to be better -- in the year to come. And yet it can be hard to make the space for my own teshuvah when that little voice in the back of my head keeps reminding me that I still don't have the perfect idea for that Rosh Hashanah sermon.
And through all of it, maybe the real challenge is balancing the need to make lists and plan and anticipate the future with the ability to be in this moment. End of July. This beautiful sunny day. This cuddle with my child, this blog post, this instant. This opportunity to be who I yearn to be, right here, right now.