When I was born -- or something near enough to that so that it doesn't matter-- I sang. I can't remember a time I didn't sing. Spiders. Buses. Bonnie on the ocean harmonized with Christmas carols and Hinei Mah Tov. I drank it in and sang it out-- every note, every key, every word.
Even then, I knew that when I sang, I was free. Or freed. Something. I felt light and joy, and I loved how people would stop when I sang, and watch me, in wonder or something close to happiness. And when I was finished, when the song was done, invariably, they would coo and smile and tell me how beautifully I sang.
And in that exact moment, I knew that I was beautiful. I knew that I was loved. Just for that instant, even as my face grew pink and warm, and my toes curled with their compliments, and I felt like squirming under their attention, in that instant I knew that I could sing and it was good.
I don't remember a time I didn't sing. From first grade junior choir at synagogue to the middle school chorus and my high school stage (with summer theater camp weaving all in and through those years), name a musical and I was probably in it. Name a song arranged in four part choral harmony, and I sang it: first soprano, reaching flawlessly all the way up to F above high C. And oh-- it was all amazingly good! For the space of that performance, and the handful or two of minutes while the applause lasted and the congratulations echoed off the auditorium walls, it was good and I was loved and God was near.
And when I was 18 or 20 or some other difficult and existentially angsty age, I decided I would never sing again. There were a thousand reasons for my declaration, every one of them reasonable, well thought out.
They were all lies, of course.
I didn't sing-- refused to sing-- because I was angry--with the world, my life, my family. And God. Oh, I was especially angry with God! And what I wasn't angry with, I was afraid of-- everybody, everything. Singing was the one thing-- the only thing-- that allowed me to step outside my own head and breathe, really breathe, and feel the presence and comfort and absoluteness of God. In a world where the ground was constantly shifting, where people loved you and told you lies, where less-than and lost were my constant companions, there was God. And one day, at aome impossibly vulnerable, hormonal age, I crawled outside the confines of my head, and was met with emptiness.
Where once there was God, now was a howling, empty loneliness, coupled with the absolute conviction that I was alone and God had gone. Somewhere. Anywhere. Certainly gone from me. I thrummed like a taut wire: abandoned by God and fairly buzzing with tension in the face of my inability to fit inside my own skin or into the steady cadence of life the rest of the world seemed to find so easily.
I tried. I tried to find God, to fill that gaping open space. For a bunch of years, I searched, but eventually, I couldn't bear the thought of my abandonment. A few years into that howling emptiness, so vulnerable and so desperately raw, my twisted logic led me to the only possible conclusion that made sense: having been rejected by God, I therefore rejected the one thing that felt like holiness, the one thing that lifted me to sacred. I'll show You, I declared into the silence that suddenly filled me: I will not sing. Instead, it was so much easier, so much more right, to crawl inside a bottle and hide there for a small space of eternity and my own personalized tour of hell. It seemed like the right thing to do at the time.
So, for the next couple of decades, I didn't. and I did.
For the next couple of decades, I did not sing. For the next couple of decades, I hid inside a bottle of whatever was handy, as long as it burned like liquid oblivion going down, and made me believe, if even for 37 seconds, that I was not alone in the universe, and the voices in my head stopped whispering their siren song of self-destruction.
For the next couple of decades, I yearned for the connection I had once found in singing. And for the next couple of decades, I denied myself the grace of it, with ever sip, every glass, every hangover. There was a lot of denial.
For more than twenty years, I did not sing. And then I got sober.
I got sober, and they told me, all those happy, shiny people who filled the smoky rooms and the cracked leather couches and the gunmetal folding chairs that had seen better decades, let alone better days-- they told me to find God.
I didn't need to find God. Hell, I knew exactly where I'd left Him. Her. The Deity. I hate the grammar of the Divine. God was locked away in a private little room, watching. Watching everything through a window that looked out onto the world far, infinitesimally far away. God's face was the face of Compassion itself-- filled with kindness and light and love. And God wept, as He watched, at the evil and cruelty and waste and sadness that filled the earth, day in and day out, world without end, amen.
God wept, and I saw that Her hands were bound with barbed wire, powerless to act, impotent in the face of a desperately broken world aand desperately broken people. What good was God, if God could only watch, and weep?
I may have known (unequivocally) exactly where God was hiding, but I searched anyway. They told me to, those happy, shiny, sober people. And they had something I didn't have, something I desperately wanted: they had joy. They had happy. They sat comfortably in their own skins, didn't seem to want to crawl out of it all the time, into a hole or the dark or... away. And I wanted that. all of it. I wanted to be made whole, to fit, to be forgiven. So if the price of all that was to seek God-- seek God I would, in twelve step meetings and self help books, spiritual guides and therapy. I would practice willingness, because they said it was the next right thing to do.
I managed to make a friend at a meeting; turns out we had more than trying to stay sober a day at a time in common. He was edgy, sarcastic, broken, looking for redemption and God, and he was Jewish. My lucky day. He tended to go temple-hopping on Saturday mornings and invited me to hop along. Not every Saturday, but every so often, I'd hop along with him, and look for God in God's own house.
I stumbled through the prayers. I didn't remember the choreography or the Hebrew. I was convinced that I didn't fit, didn't belong. I didn't know what the hell I was doing, and felt gauche and ungainly. I had that odd and unsettling, questioning, searching, just-at-the-tip-of-my-out-of-reach-almost-discovery-of-I-wish-I-knew-or-maybe-I-hope-I-don't-discover sensation of being closerthanthis to an answer kind of thing. But it was elusive and missing, an almost-whisper of grace.
And then one Saturday morning, the choir sang.
From above me and behind me, a host (I swear it was a host, not just a handful or two of earnest choristers) a host of heavenly voices filled the sanctuary with this glorious, transcendent sound, a rising arc of prayer and joy. It was rich and full and resonant. I could hear in it, in every note, every chord that stretched from one note into a thousand (I swear it was a thousand) before tumbling back-- like water, or laughter-- into a single note again, and there was God: unshackled, unbound, present in a way that took my breath away.
And I knew -- knew-- that everyone around me felt it. They got it-- they were in it and of it and surrounded by it. They were whole and filled and it was all meant for them. This was the day that God had made, and they were welcomed into the miracle of that moment. I could feel their faith, their acceptance-- of God, of themselves, of the world around them -- radiating outwards, a parallel arc to this music of God.
I stood transfixed. I felt the power of that faith, the grace and majesty of it. I wanted it, every drop, every heartbeat, every breath. I could feel the hunger in me build, a surge of want and need. I stood at the jumping off place, poised and motionless at the gate. A step. All I needed was a single step through, and I would find it, all of it, all my yearning answered-- faith, redemption, forgiveness. God.
And I couldn't. I couldn't step or leap or even move. I could only stand, rooted, outside of that glorious, joyous song, knowing that there was faith and forgiveness and God. For them-- all of them, the world entire. But not for me.
I stood, and I wept, and I did not sing, knowing that my fear was stronger than any faith, louder than any music, vaster and more complete than God.
I was silent, and I knew that my silence would last forever.