Sunday, July 17, 2005

V’la-boker rina? A prayer for the music that I’ve lost

“In the morning, joy?”

HaShem, forgive me. I could not pray yesterday morning. At all.

I made a mistake. I should have done this yesterday afternoon, instead. But, fool that I was, I opened Sefer Tehillim/the Book of Psalms before davvening (praying)—a mistake, as I said—and spent who knows how long scanning the English of the entire book, searching for the words to a song. I did not find them. Perhaps I did not look carefully enough. Or perhaps I looked in the wrong book.

But I did find this, from Psalm 42:

K’ayil taarog al afikei mayim, kein nafshi taarog elocha, Elokim . . .
“As the hart pants after the water brooks, so pants my soul after you, L-rd . . .” (verse 2).

Over 20 years ago, we heard that quote sung by a member of our then-shul at a Shabbaton (Sabbath retreat).

Yesterday morning, I couldn’t remember the melody.

It all started about 20 years ago, when now-well-known Cantor Aaron Ben Soussan was still a student at the Jewish Theological Seminary’s H.L. Miller Cantorial School and served our current congregation for two years or so. He had a beautiful tune for L’dor va-Dor at the end of the Kedushah prayer.

That was the first song I ever loved that I forgot. I haven’t been able to remember it for at least a decade.

Several days this past week, I listened to Shlock Rock’s Mizmor Shir. Every time, I thought I’d learned it. And yet, the next day, when I tried to remember it, I got part of Debbie Friedman’s version playing in my head instead. Only part of it. Why? Why can’t I remember the whole song? And Lenny Solomon’s Shlock Rock version? And every other version that I’ve ever known?

Once upon a time, I had a musical memory like the memory of Eliezer Hyrcanus, whom the rabbis of Pirkei Avot (Verses/Ethics of the Fathers) described as " . . . a cemented cistern that loses not a drop . . ." (chapter 2, verse 11). Once upon a time, I could hear a piece of music once, maybe twice, and it was mine for life. Or so I thought. Now, my memory is like a sieve—like water, like fine sand, the music passes through without a stop.

Finally, I picked up my siddur and started to pray. But when I got to Ashrei, I couldn’t go on. How could I say “Ashrei, Happy,” when I was not? How could I say Ashrei when I was weeping for my lost music, for the song from Psalms that I could no longer remember, for the Shlock Rock tune that wouldn’t stay in my head, for the other part of Debbie Friedman’s song, for Cantor Ben Soussan’s missing L’dor va-Dor?

How could I say Ashrei when I haven’t been able to sing loudly enough to lead my Junior Congregation kids for over a month, when my top range is only now coming back, when I just got the diagnosis on Friday afternoon that my throat has been ravaged by acid reflux disease and the problems that I’ve been having singing may never again disappear completely?

Hashem, Your psalmist says, “Ivdu et HaShem b’simchah, bo-u l’fanav bi-r’nanah, Serve the L-rd with gladness, come before him with singing.” But how can I serve you with gladness when my music is gone? How can I come before you with singing if I cannot sing?

Perhaps, HaShem, I’m being self-centered. It won’t be the first time that I’ve been called egocentric, and I have no choice but to plead “Guilty as charged.” What is this infinistesimal tragedy in the grand scheme of things? Poverty and hunger, starvation and war. Children without hope because they can’t get a decent education. Adults struggling to find or keep a job. People of all ages handicapped by illness or disability. Innocents dead because they had the nerve to take the subway/underground or bus, or to go to the mall. Newlyweds from Brooklyn killed in an auto accident by a traumatized truck driver who’d tried desperately to stop. A rabbi in Milwaukee bereft of his rebbitzen, their ten children left without a mother, after a fatal truck-car collision.

And yet, I cannot deny that I wept, and could not pray.

“'atheist schmathiest,” quoth the Balabusta in Blue Jeans from California.

'atheist schmathiest, that's no reason not to go to shul and daven."

And so, I come before You, I, an apikorus (heretic) who’s not even sure she believes in You, and pray.

HaBocher b’shirei zimrah, the One Who chooses song,” restore the music to my memory and the voice to my throat, and I will sing Your praises until the daughters of music are brought low and my dust returns to the earth.



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