This post is part of the #blogelul project started by the inimitable Ima On (and off) the Bima. I am using it as my motivation to rejuvenate this site and get myself back into the swing of things.
It’s an old feeling, almost forgotten in the blur of years which has been my career. Washing over me before I have time to react or mentally prepare, I am overwhelmed. I can feel the tunnel vision, hear my pulse in my ear, feel tension vibrating in my face like I’ve been shocked.
After two and a half decades, I’m in front of an audience again – a real audience, not just a group of business people listening to me spice up dry facts and figures with a wry joke and goofy delivery. I’m delivering lines as a character who bears a strong resemblance to me but is definitely not me. Or at least not JUST “me”.
I’m acting. And the unfamiliarity of it, despite having been second nature through my youth, is threatening to swallow me up.
Unbidden, unexpected, I hear the whisper of a voice in my head. Someone who was able to teach and nurture and raise up. A woman would could do it at a scale and for a duration of time which defied all logic. A teacher whose impact was completely out of proportion to the tragically short number of years she was allowed to share her talents with this world.
“What are you doing, Leon?” I hear her gently say. “Right now. In this moment. What are you getting done?”
I’m shocked into moving again, going about the business of speaking my part, appearing to listen even though I know what’s going to be said.
“Don’t pretend. Those people – the audience – they deserve better than make-believe. It’s so much more honest to just do it. To just act.”
Now I really am listening. And although I am already familiar with the words being said, I’m still surprised by the tone, the pacing, the reality of how these moments are coming together differently than any other time we’ve rehearsed. This gives me a grounding into the present, and with it the emotional center I needed. “What am I doing?” I ask myself. I need to explain, to teach. And so I start doing that, until I’m so caught up in the act that I forget that I’m supposed to be acting.
The Days of Awe are their own kind of overwhelming force in our lives. They can come at us with a suddenness and weight that threatens to overwhelm us, to swallow us up in their inescapable gravity.
And we can get tripped up even further believing we already know what is going to be said. After all, we hear this script year after year – one High Holiday after the next.
But the words I heard in the echo of my teacher – may her memory be for a blessing – are equally relevant here. What are you doing? Right now, in this moment, on the second day of a month whose very name demands you look deeper?
You have the chance right now – not to pretend or do it for show or make believe. You have a chance to recognize that this moment is unique and for all it’s similarity to years past it holds it’s own unique potential. You have the opportunity to express the your most honest self.
You have the chance to act.