Going to shul

It’s not that everyone is someone important at IKAR, my synagogue; it’s that everyone is someone.

At the end of February, I showed up for Shabbat services, mostly because honoring our friends’ fiftieth anniversary was important to me, even though I’d stayed away from shul since my complicated knee injury around yom kippur. It seemed strange, because we’re hardly ever there, when Melissa asked us to take the fifth aliyah. I’m nobody, I said to myself. I also had visions of my knee buckling at the bimah, of falling down in front of everyone. I said, “Maybe just Steve. I don’t know if I can stand that long,” and Melissa looked disappointed, but she nodded.

After Steve’s aliyah, when the rabbi made some comments before the sixth, she spoke only of me. She craned her neck around to see where I was sitting and she spoke of Refuah Shlema for me, of complete healing. That was what the aliyah was for. For me, before the congregational Misheberach: for blessing, compassion, restoration, and strength in body and spirit.

I can still barely sit with this realization. But I’m not anyone, I thought, and that just isn’t true at IKAR. Anyone who knows me also knows how hard I worked in that moment to stay present, to stay mentally and emotionally with myself in that room full of people pointedly wishing me Refuah Shlema by name. I was stunned. The urge to crawl into the earth, to hide, was strong. It is hard to tolerate being seen. I was being seen and offered love. I don’t know how to accept love, I thought. I recognized a distant urge to self-harm, a primitive way to down-regulate strong emotions. But this is not threatening, I can stay here. So I stayed present. I allowed what couldn’t possibly be mine, with a little disbelief and with deep gratitude.