Jewish Journal

Me and the maintenance guy

by Michelle Azar

September 20, 2012 | 5:13 pm

I found myself at Rosh Hashanah services sitting on the floor in my favorite red Audrey Hepburn dress next to Alejandro, one of our temple’s great maintenance guys.

The road to that secretive spot was this.

The Rabbi with whom I live got home appropriately late the night before, after leading 2 services- might have been 3, it’s all a bit of a blur. I stayed for most of it all, then snuck home to relieve the sitter and warm up his dinner, for which he was not quite ready for at his 3pm call time.

Sleepy though I was, I stayed through his meal, tried not to critique the whole beautiful thing so fast, got the sandwiches ready for the next day’s marathon, and then retired to bed. But I’m like a little kid. If I stay up just a HAIR past my bedtime, I am done for. I am, what the books call, OVERTIRED.

I sit on my sweet meditation rug, waiting for quiet. I lead myself back to our bed, already occupied by our sweet seven year old who thinks her own bed is unfit these days, and hold her sweet hand to welcome my own sweet dreams. No luck.

Somehow, I drift off, only to be awoken by our dear dog. Loud and long was his barking, and now I AM UP, alternately soothing him and cursing him. All hopes of sleep gone, I pick up my old Sephardic cookbooks as is my middle of the night ritual, in the hopes of someday replicating something my Iraqi father actually finds eatable.

Needless to say, when alarm clocks chime, I feel less than refreshed.

At temple, I sit entranced by my daughter who helps lead the family service, enjoy seeing friends I have not seen, and then even enjoy chanting some Torah myself. The sermon given by my favorite rabbi is inspiring beyond measure. He guides us in an exercise: who is the worthy witness of one’s life? How do we trust our perceptions of our year’s events?

More family stuff, and then time for the second round of adult services. I had left this time open for me. To be a congregant. Kids downstairs at child care; I find a seat in the new and comfy chairs replete with arm rests. But I cannot rest. Overtired, I cannot get comfortable. The years of yoga and sitting on floors are calling me, but I figure that is just too too weird in this setting, even for me. I try; I sit next to this person, next to that family, but to no avail. Surrender I must to the floor or I shall surely snore. Eek. Both to the memory and that rhyme.

My red dress and me quietly excuse ourselves to the back of the large sanctuary. No one notices as I slip behind the last row and find my asana there. Many of us know the word Asana, the Sanskrit sound that accompanies the names of the yoga postures. The word itself simply means SEAT, however. So here, now, I practice my seat.

The service takes on a new life for me. I am fully engaged, present, moved to joy at times and sadness at others as images dance around me from the words and the melodies. Everything seems new. I feel childlike, though I have been here before.

My eyes are closed. I admit I may have drifted off a moment, when I feel someone slide to the floor next to me. Alejandro. He is looking at me, sorta smiling. I hesitate, hold my breath a sec in embarrassment. “What’s the Rabbi’s wife doing dozing on the floor?” I imagine he might ask. He misses not a beat. “I’m gonna sit down next to you, ok?” “Sure,” is my answer. I realize Alejandro in this moment knows me better than anyone in the room maybe. He sees me as ALL my roles. He met me as wife of Rabbi. He hears me sing and lead as occasional cantor. He sees me in my busy roles of mom and active school person. He has even seen me as actor, in some rehearsals or on T.V. But probably most often, Alejandro knows me as yoga gal. Yoga Teacher. Girl doing wacky things in wacky garb. He does not think this seat is at all out of place for me. 

We finished the rest of the service like this. Every now and then we exchange a word or two, but mostly, we sit in a shared silence amidst the sacred sounds around us.

I liked it. That and my husband’s sermons, both delivery and content, will go down as my favorite moments of this holiday. I felt kinship with another, less likely person, there for very different reasons perhaps, and then many similar ones. Two of us souls just practicing breath. Together. Separately.

In looking for a blog title this time around, I ultimately chose YOGA BREATHS as I think breath is the most difficult part of any discipline, and not in some groovy, southern California way mind you. The inhale ignites and disturbs us, gets us up in the morning, and then the conscious exhale settles us into the posture itself. The asana. The movement toward change.

As this next part of the holiday settles in with it’s new challenges, and dresses, I hope I can graduate to sitting in a chair amongst friends and family while committing to this inhale and exhale. The yogis’ say Yoga is a breath practice. The acrobatics are just for fun. And to look good in your jeans maybe. But breath practice, always. Sit with tall spine and breath. May we all breathe well into the New Year.

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Michelle fell in love with the practice of Ashtanga Yoga, the system of Hatha Yoga taught by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, some 13 years ago while doing a play in San Francisco. Having...

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