Thursday, October 29, 2009

Leonard Cohen for Shabbat with a Side of Broken-Heartedness

"You are hungry for experience," observed a friend last year, seated opposite me at a cafe just north of Columbia University.

"Sometimes you skate close to the edge of danger," he offered as a bonus, leaning in to catch my expression. "You have to be careful."

As I sat next to Big Babe this past Friday night at Leonard Cohen's spectacular one-night-concert at Madison Square Garden, crammed into my seat, shivering with fever, weeping at the beauty of the music, shattered by new sorrow, hypnotized by the aesthetics of the performance, saddened by Leonard Cohen's advanced age even as I was enchanted by his ageless elegance, bonded to my first-born in love of him, this moment and this music, I thought of my friend's observation and uttered a shehechiyanu -- the blessing Jews are commanded to say upon attaining a remarkable experience.
Because it was Shabbat, there were several other prayers I might also have uttered, in fact, I teasingly dared Big Babe to yell out "Good Shabbos," between songs. Though we did not recite the kiddush over wine that night, Shabbat was not forgotten; indeed, she was all around us. Squeezed into the inadequate seat beside me was the Shabbat Queen -- dressed as a gypsy, wandering, forsaken, almost human, also shivering, also broken-hearted. The Shabbos aspect of this concert was key. A strictly Orthodox person would likely have given up the experience of being at the concert, but it seemed to me a worthy challenge to both attend this great cultural event AND keep Shabbat.

Thus, all the measures we had undertaken en route to the concert were in service to this ideal -- the pre-Shabbat cab to the Time Warner Center before sundown; the Whole Foods salads hastily purchased within the magic eighteen minutes; the brisk jaunt down Broadway to the Garden; the stoic resolve to walk home after the concert, traversing the four miles by foot despite my hacking cough, high temperature and the hairline fracture in my right foot.

Those were the reasons and that was New York and this concert is now in my recent history, having taken place one week ago tomorrow. My firstborn sat beside me, he who made me a mother. The music drew my sadness from me, as a healer draws venom from the bee-sting. The tears flowed easily. It was, for me, the day after the discovery of a painful truth; the third generation of a particular sorrow. The discovery introduced me to true loneliness, which exists in a physical sense, weighing about the same as a human heart.

Last Shabbat, in Madison Square Garden, Leonard Cohen befriended and comforted me, he lay down beside me, he was my man, my rabbi, my brother of mercy, my yedid nefesh, friend of my soul; his music my personal kiddush, my Shalom Aleichem, my promise of redemption.

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