Last night, Sig Other and I went to Friday night services with the children. We don’t go every Friday. The temple isn’t close and services are early. But we try to attend when we can. I usually make the plan early in the week and then regret my choice as Friday evening approaches and I’m still in the midst of my work day and feel hassled and overwhelmed. I always wonder what I was thinking. I always wonder what possessed me to make a plan to attend Shabbat services .
I didn’t grow up going to temple. I don’t speak or read Hebrew, don’t know most of the prayers, am not entirely sure what comes next most of the time. But I love it. I love the music, the sense of community, the sermons from my brilliant rabbi. And at least once, every Friday night, I am moved to tears. Maybe its because it’s the end of the week and I’m tired. Maybe its because I’m a sap. Or maybe because there is something about a room filled with passionate voices raised in song that gets me going. But it happens, no matter what, every single time, and it always erases whatever hesitation I had about attending in the first place.
This is not to suggest that the experience of going to shul is one which makes me entirely comfortable. Often I look around the room and feel wildly uncomfortable. Everyone else, it seems, does speak or read Hebrew. Everyone else, it seems, does know most of the prayers. They know when to sit and when to stand, when to bend at the waist and when to be silent. They are at home in a place that is entirely foreign to me. And yet I love it and have from the moment I started attending. I’m just not sure why. It isn’t God I’m looking for in that room. Mostly because I don’t consider myself someone looking for God (or at least not by any traditional definition). It isn’t even faith I’m looking for (because oddly though the concept of God eludes me entirely I do consider myself someone with a great deal of faith). But clearly, I am looking for something.
My rabbi’s services attract other rabbis. And fine ones at that. One of these rabbis is a brilliant speaker and a lovely man. I’ve heard him speak a few times – he is always thought-provoking and passionate. This man has an autistic son – a severely autistic son who comes to shul on occasion and has spoken to Child Two’s class about his experience of being autistic. Last night, there was a moment of wild raucous joy as my rabbi announced the engagement of two congregants. A dozen people surrounded the couple and sang and danced in celebration. And the boy suddenly came up the aisle toward the revelers, fingers in his ears, clearly disturbed by the din and terribly upset. The boy is not young. He is a young man and not small. And his father tried, at first, to stop him gently. “No,” I could see him say to his son, “Come back this way – we’ll go outside away from the noise.” But the boy was too strong for him and pulled away. The father had to grab his son in a semi-tackle and pull him away down the aisle. The boy relented finally, and the two went outside for a few minutes until the noise subsided. It happened quickly and was over before most people noticed. But I noticed - a private moment in a public space - a father who saw only his boy and the pain he was in - a brilliant scholar forced to tackle his autistic son in order to protect him.
This was the moment that stuck with me this week. This was the moment that moved me to tears. It isn’t that I feel sad for the man or even for the boy. Quite the opposite actually. What I felt in the moment, and what has stuck with me since, is the power of the bond between these two souls – the power of the love that leads a father to stay consistent, to stay present and to stay dedicated to a son who seems unreachable to most. He isn’t unreachable, of course. When you read the writings of this young man or hear him speak, you understand the brilliant mind and soul trapped in a frustrating cage. But not every parent would have the patience to remain dedicated. Not every parent would have the faith to sustain this relationship moment after moment, day after day.
So it was not a sermon that moved me to tears this week, though it was a damned good one. It was not the songs or prayers. It was this moment, this moment of pure love and dedication, this moment of perseverance in the face of challenge, which became a moment of extraordinary inspiration for me on this Shabbat. Maybe that’s all I'm looking for. Maybe it isn’t about knowing the order of the prayers or the exact moment to bend at the waist or when to sing and when to be silent. Maybe its just about finding a moment of pure inspiration in the sanctity of a room that is outside of my daily life.