A funny thing happened at the end of my son’s soccer game. The teams had done their post-game, good sportsmanship high five to one another and then the team began chanting in unison. I could not make out what they were chanting, it didn’t seem to be something derisively directed at the other team or even something promoting their own efforts. It sound to me like “Tunnel!”. My wife confirmed that “tunnel” was exactly what I had heard. Before I could even ask the next and obvious question, I saw other parents lining up in two lines that faced one another, raising their hands above their heads and clasping hands with the person facing them in the other line. And there it was – the tunnel. The boys from both teams proudly and energetically raced through the tunnel – wholly satisfied with this closing ritual for a game well played.
I flashed back to a different kind of human tunnel. This one consisted of teachers. They were the faculty of my high school. It was tradition that on graduation day the faculty would form a human tunnel – sans the clasping of hands across two lines – through which the graduating class would enter into the auditorium. They, instead, used their unclasped hands to clap as each and everyone of us made our way to the graduation ceremony. I remember being surprised and quite moved by this ritual. Our teachers seemed to be a forgotten part of the graduation hoopla. We were all focused on the way our lives were going to change – the colleges we would attend; the new experiences ahead of us; the way that this upcoming chapter of our lives would affect us and our families. The faculty standing there and applauding us meant many things – one them being a reminder of as caught up as we might have been in each of our own individual moment, that there was more than just an ‘I’ that was part of reaching and celebrating that moment.
I think about the I-ness and the WE-ness of the process of Teshuvah. There is a great deal of focus on our own personal reflection and growth. It is about the work that each of us an individuals has to do; about each of our own returning to The Source and seeking forgiveness from that Source and from those we love. However, the liturgy that guides through such a confessional on Yom Kippur is not an I liturgy, it is a WE liturgy. (i.e. It is written in the first person plural not the first person singular).
Why? I do not think it is because you may be responsible for my sins or vice versa. I think it has to do with the reason that my son and his teammates wanted to run through the parent and coaches’ tunnel at the end of the game. I think it has to do with the reason that walking through the tunnel of my faculty still resonates so strongly with me twenty-six years later. We find an affirmation, an energy and an inspiration from being reminded that we all have a WE of which to be a part – whether these reminders occur in moments of celebration or in those moments when we may be reminded of our limitations and failings.
Even if you are a introvert (guilty), even if you are independent to the point of stubbornness (guilty) and even if the formality of communal prayer may not be always be the most conducive mode of inwardness (guilty) … there some affirmation, energy and inspiration to be mined by being part of a WE. Elul signifies that this particular tunnel is beginning to take shape.