It might not surprise you to learn that I have a tough time on Yom Kippur.
Yom Kippur has always been tough for me, for different reasons, primarily because I did not fast well nor was I into davening (praying) ALL day.
I am still not into davening all day, but, these days, fasting is not a problem. With my current chemo, I have no appetite. Normally, I have to force myself to eat, at least twice a day, so I can take my chemo after food. My oncologist said I could skip my morning dose, so I did not have to eat at all, which suited me just fine. I still had to drink, which was also just fine, since the chemo makes me VERY thirsty, all the time!
I am so past all the angst about drinking while the rest of the Jewish world is fasting (I have posted about that topic here). God gave me cancer, God knows I have to drink. If anyone has a problem with that, they can take it up with God. I am too tired to feel guilty about drinking and I am too anxious to worry about anything other than my prayers!
After missing almost all of Rosh HaShanah davening, I was preoccupied with making it to at least some of the significant tefillot (prayers) on Yom Kippur, particularly Kol Nidre and Ne'ilah. (I managed to make it for both of these tefillot as well as most of Musaf)
The thing is, davening itself is hard. Praying for your life takes on a whole new meaning, when you have cancer. If I maintain an emotional distance, then I can also maintain my composure. But when that barrier is broken, so am I.
The thing is, we are not meant to maintain an emotional distance when we daven. The power of our prayer is greatest when we are emotionally open and vulnerable to God.
But does the whole world have to see it??
There were several points during my tefillot when I was overcome, and could not stop myself from crying. It took all my energy to contain my emotions and not draw attention to myself.
The first time it happened, I realized I forgot to bring tissues!! Luckily, the Rebbetzin was sitting in front of me, and her daughter had a stack of tissues on her chair. (Still, you better believe I remembered to bring my own tissues the next day!!)
My youngest daughter was concerned when she saw me cry; she did not understand at first. Eventually she realized that she just had to let me cry, and she did her best to console me, as did my eldest. It was comforting to be surrounded by my daughters.
Nevertheless, I felt exposed.
My soul was bared, without my consent, and the entire congregation of women bore witness. I did not want that.
In reality, I do not really know how many women noticed, since I did not look up or around. But I felt exposed. And I felt embarrassed.
Men have the luxury of being able to hide their faces with their tallitot (fringed prayer shawl, traditionally worn only by men). Women have nothing.
After tefillot (prayers), I found it difficult to greet the other women. When possible, I avoided their eyes. I did not want to find myself staring into the "sad, knowing eyes" of people who really do not know (thank God). Rather than hang around talking, I just wanted to go home and go to sleep.
It was a little better the next day, because I was more prepared. But this issue resurfaced at least twice.
By the end of the day, I was able to smile and greet my friends, though I still found myself avoiding the eyes of the women I don't know so well.
My only comfort comes from a parable I heard years ago:
One Yom Kippur night, several talmidim (students) were surprised to find their Rebbe (Rabbi) crying inconsolably in the Beis Medrash (Beit Midrash - study hall). The talmidim rushed to the Rebbe's side, asking "Rebbe, what's wrong?" After a long pause, the Rebbe answered, through his sobs, "On Yom Kippur, if we are not crying when we pray to Hashem (God), then you should ask 'what's wrong.'"
Please daven (or send happy, healing thoughts) for RivkA bat Teirtzel.
With love and optimism,