I am in a tiny dinghy on a vast sea of words. Hebrew words, English words, transliterated words. I’ve picked up my High Holy Day Machzors a hundred times and chanted, read, then reread all the pages we’re covering. For weeks I’ve been writing and rewriting. The tyranny of composing essays or sermons, or really anything on a computer is that you never arrive at the final draft. You can continue to edit right up to the very moment you have to get up and deliver the sermon or submit the article.
This means I’ve spent a lot of time reviewing and editing my words. I reach a point when I begin to panic. Does this make sense? Have I written my way into a corner? Is this sermon worthy of your attention?
Words. When this existential confrontation occurs, I am reminded of Flaubert’s aside in Madame Bovary, when he writes, “Language is a cracked kettle on which we beat out tunes for bears to dance to, while all the time we long to move the stars to pity.”
Jules Feiffer, the famous cartoonist/writer/gadfly, produced a weekly cartoon commentary for the Village Voice. One of the recurring themes was a woman in a black leotard, doing modern dance steps while proclaiming a variety of profound truths, nonsense, and provocative insights about the world. For some reason, I’ve imagined doing a sermon like that. Don’t worry – that would never happen. And I hate to dance. And I’ve never attended a single dance performance, save my daughters’ endless dance recitals, which were, let’s face it – deadly.
It’s not the dancing per se that attracts me. It’s just words never seem entirely up to the task. They’re a cracked kettle. They’re opaque, easily misunderstood. So maybe a form beyond words alone. Maybe interpreting words through movement could make their meaning clearer. Maybe?
So here I am – heneini – talking about the limits of words – with words. And I don’t have many moves beyond the literary ones. This is what I’ve got. And I will share with you, through all of our filters and thoughts and experiences, my best attempt at making meaning. Think of it as an offering of truth or a challenge to preconceived notions. Come join me on this sea of words.