I’m gonna let you in on a secret. Not a capital S secret though. No life-altering admission. Relax. You can keep drinking your coffee. Hold your empathy comments. But before I let you in on the secret, I’m going to refill my own cup and tell you a story. It’s short. I promise.
Years ago, I had a friend whose father was a congregational rabbi. A brilliant man, a genuine talmid chacham. Beloved by everyone. Everyone. Any community would be blessed to have him. Except for one thing. (Isn’t there always one thing?) He was a horrible singer. My friend told me that his father couldn’t carry a tune. Totally tone deaf. He’d fumble his way through the first line of anything, and then smile as his congregation carried on from there. Their davening literally carried him. Supported him. And of all things, his shul was known for its rousing, kavaneh-filled davening.
Why tell you this story? Guess my secret? No, I’m not a talmid chacham. Ha-ha. That would be funny. No. I can’t sing. Not one bit. “So,” you ask. “Why does it matter?” But it does matter. Think about it. Davening? I sit in the back of shul and mumble along with the best of them. But the minute there’s a tune involved? Forget it. I’m quiet. Zmeras at the Shabbos table? Not at our house. Nope. Never. At someone else’s table? Again, I’m quiet. Once, someone asked me if I didn’t sing because of kol isha. I just smiled and overheard my daughter chuckle to her father, “Kol Isha? More like Kol Ima.” Get it?
Siman tov v’mazel tov. A baby born. A couple engaged. A wedding. Joyful times. I’m elated. But quiet. Or at least my voice is. I’ll clap my hands along like the best of them, but forgive me if I don’t sing. And don’t tell me no one would notice if I did. They do notice. In fact, once when I summoned the courage to sing along, a friend remarked that she didn’t recognize the melody I was singing. I was embarrassed because I believed I was singing the same melody as everyone else. Understand?
“Look,” my husband says. “Its not a big deal. We learn that Moshe had a speech impediment of some sort. A lisp. A stutter. Something. You remember the story about his burnt tongue. So, he certainly didn’t sing. Why do you even concern yourself with this nonsense?” But Moshe was, well, Moshe. And, my husband? Well he can sing.
The other day, I noticed my 15-year-old daughter drawing in her sketch book. I’d never asked to look at her drawings. She had long made clear that her sketch book was off-limits. “It’s like my diary,” she explained, with an eye-roll of disdain. I respect that. I really do. But this time, she offered to show me her drawings. Now she had my attention. I put down my cup of coffee.
As she proudly showed me each of her drawings, I held back tears. And when I asked her how she was inspired to draw so brilliantly, she told me that she just looks out her bedroom window and G’d inspires her. Wow. Now, I’ve looked out her bedroom windows hundreds, if not thousands, of times. What she draws is not what I see. It’s what G’d shows her. Then she let me see the photos she takes through the same bedroom window, and my tears came. Her drawings and her photos. They sang. There’s no other way to put it. But I’ll be honest. For a brief moment I was jealous. (Is it okay to be jealous of your child?) She had her eyes. They let her sing. But what about me? How could I sing?
Sunday mornings are my time to write. Undisturbed. I wake up early. Make a cup of coffee, and I write. To me, it’s simple. Pure. The first sentence becomes the second sentence, then the third, and I don’t notice the clock. The words flow out, and I’m molding them. Forming them. Into an image, like my daughter and her art. Could it be? Shaping them into a praise of G’d, like a beautiful melody. Like those melodies I can’t sing. That’s it! The smile spreads along my face. My voice? My song? I look at the letters on my keyboard. My praise to G’d isn’t song. It is the story. How could I have missed that?
I look forward to Sunday mornings. Before the sun comes up. Before anyone else is awake. To praise G’d with my writing. To tell you, my reader, a story. My story is my song. And I hope you enjoy the melody.