Monthly Archives: October 2016

Elul 24

#BlogElul – Hope

I felt like writing about singing today. I love singing. I’m not a very good singer, but there’s something about the cadence and rhythm of a good song that just feels right to me. To me, singing is a way to connect to God, and to other people, to myself and to the world around me. I sing to best express a feeling, to find comfort in saying clearly what something is like for me. I don’t sing creatively – people who write music, you have no idea how lucky you are! But I do like to experience a song in depth, to really understand who I am through music. I like songs that are not too fast, with lyrics, so that I can sing along to them. I know there are other purposes to music, but it is the flow and bounce of words that attracts me, the many ways simple patterns can be put together to create beauty.

When my family feels together, I feel all is right in the world. Resentments begin to thaw, and fights melt away and I remember what it is I like about the people I’m with. As they sing, their energy emerges and it’s beautiful to see who they are and to see the divine within them. It’s almost like singing makes us angels for just that one tiny moment. Sometimes, we’re irreverent, funny angels, as some of the songs we sing are ridiculous, but even then, sometime it just clicks.

My favourite movies, are, of course, musicals. To me, musicals are *more* real than other movies. I know no one ever drops everything and starts madly dancing in circles. But it’s a clear, visible way to express feeling and engender it. So, I can feel what the characters are feeling, practicing that emotion in a safe way.

This is why for years, our slihot service has been a sing-along. If one’s apology is going to be generic and not specific to a situation, if one is going to apologize for general badness rather than lack of connection then really, that apology is different. That’s not a ‘sorry, I hurt you by doing such and such and I am working on changing who I am so I don’t behave that way any more’ apology. It’s more of an apology along the lines of ‘sorry, there is badness between us, and I’m sure a big part of it is my fault, but I don’t even know all that’s involved and I certainly can’t fix it all. So, I’m asking you to let go of all that so we can still be friends’. That kind of apology, inherent in the word ‘slihot’, which is both apologies and forgiveness, that king of apology is more of a connection. We try to reconnect, going around the broken bits, knowing that the work of cleaning them up and repairing them may still be there, but it can at least stop holding us back.

That’s something I can accomplish through song, much better than through mere words. By sharing those difficult, sad, happy, beautiful, silly, sweet and holy feelings, I do reconnect. I acknowledge that my fellow singers are just as bad at this ‘living a proper life’ thing as I am, and I keep from letting that hold me back. Through songs, I rebuild the bridges I need to manage next year, both with other people and with God.

Now, today’s word is ‘hope’. How am I going to tie that in? I guess I will express hope that I sing often. To me songs are full of hope, of love and connections, even the sad, despairing ones. I sing because I hope, and singing inspires me to hope more.

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Elul 23

Elul 23

#BlogElul – Begin

Ok, so yesterday I wrote about being OK with things that aren’t finished. Today, I guess I’ll write about the complete opposite and write about the importance of finishing things.

I’m not very good at that. The other aspect of being a perfectionist and being very slow is that tasks take forever. And somewhere in the process, I get distracted and then I don’t finish the project. It sits on the shelf, being undone, and I can neither give it up – I started it after all – nor finish it, because I’m in the middle of five other things, and this one has fallen to the bottom of the priority list.

So, I have a bunch of stuff that I did begin but didn’t finish in my life, and in my head. There’s that sewing project and when I was going to learn a whole lot of things from piano to Tae Kwon Do and the huge papers pile to sort and I was going to go through the books, and the exercise program I was going to take up, and various work projects and the regular blogging too, of course.

It creates a mess, in my head (and in my house), that, fundamentally, is unacceptable. More and more of my thinking space gets filled up with these unfinished bits of plans and thoughts. I switch from thinking about things I have to take care of right now, to thoughts like “oh, I really should have finished… when can I get back to it?” This makes my current list of tasks slower too. Then they don’t get done, by the time some new task comes up that’s crucial. That’s a positive feedback loop that’s not at all positive (like global warming).

I try and try to let the old stuff go, but it is incredibly difficult! I began these tasks, after all. I claimed them and made them mine. Who am I to abandon them? When I begin something, I make a promise to myself and the world I live in that I will complete it. It seems wrong not to.  And promises lead me to the “Kol Nidrey”.

This is the prayer, “All our Vows” that forms one of the highlights of the Yom Kippur service. When I was young and just learning about Judaism and didn’t know any Hebrew, I thought that this prayer, coming as it did in the eve of Yom Kippur had to be about saying sorry for something. For a long time I thought it was saying sorry about broken promises. I was shocked to find that actually, it wasn’t about the past at all. It was about the future. Because actually, I stink at keeping promises.

God knows this. God says, “let it go. If you can let go of the old projects, the ones that aren’t finished, if you can annul them as a way of closure and so finish them in your mind, then you can have projects that you do complete. And you won’t complete all of those either.”

On Kol Nidrey, we ask that the promises we’re going to break next year be annulled. That was super-weird to me. It’s a mega important prayer with a hauntingly beautiful tune that says “you’re not going to be able to do it.” I hate admitting that. I hate letting my project and promises go. But the history of Kol Nidrey reminds me that the promises I make and my ability to keep them isn’t always under my control.

This prayer used to be an absolution for Jews that made promises under duress, to escape prosecution.  They didn’t want to have to keep them because they were bad promises. Also, this prayer would work to help those whose good plans were spoiled by prosecution – no matter one’s intention to light the Sabbath candles, if it would mean death at the hands of anti-Semites, that’s not a promise someone would keep.

I don’t have reasons like those for my broken promises to myself. Mine are more along the lines of distraction and poor choices, over-commitment and perfectionism, and similar problems which pale in comparison to those my ancestors faced. Still, I hear the Kol Nidre and realize that the “I’m going to do this every day, God” promise probably won’t make it through the year and God knows that and is cool with it.

So, that’s my hope for this year. May I let go of projects I can’t finish. May I begin only those I can. And should I begin something I can’t do, may the annulment prayer of Kol Nidrey remind me that I can’t do everything, and may I let it go and begin something else.