I am having such a hard time concentrating on the prayers of the Neilah service, the closing prayer of Yom Kippur. My eight year old son, Shalom, is nowhere in sight. He hasn’t been in synagogue nearly the whole day. He left mid-morning to play at a friend; his father, who made the arrangements, assumed that he would be brought back to synagogue in time for the Minchah (afternoon) service. Minchah passes, Neilah has begun, and Shalom is still nowhere in sight. I am not worried about his safety; I am simply heartsick that his soul is not soaking up the Yom Kippur praying. I keep glancing over the divider in the center of the synagogue, compulsively eyeing my husband and other son, wondering if they are even aware of Shalom’s absence. In past years my spirit has been transported to exalted places during the Neilah service. This time, I can’t seem to get my focus off missing Shalom, or away from my steadily rising resentments at my husband for having dispatched our son so wantonly. I can barely concentrate on the words, let alone repeat the responsive verses. I am brutally distressed that my thoughts are in the mundane instead of the sublime. I use the occasion to pray: G‑d, I am powerless over Shalom’s whereabouts. I am powerless over my husband’s poor judgment. I am powerless over the timing with which the friend’s family will eventually return my son to synagogue. I am powerless over my compulsion to blame. What’s more: I am powerless over my own inability to concentrate on the prayers. I can’t do it without Your help. G‑d, I need You to release me. I can’t do it on my own. I can’t even forgive myself for not being able to concentrate.

I contemplate: This incident happened for a reason. This is part of G‑d’s plan. This is perfectly scripted for my good. I intellectualize the notion but I can’t feel it. Like Jonah the prophet, second-guessing G‑d, I wonder: How can it be good for Shalom not to be in synagogue on Yom Kippur? I rationalize: Maybe there’s a situation at the friend’s home that Shalom is able to help with. Maybe the father left already and the mother doesn’t feel well enough to walk the boys back to synagogue. Maybe there could have been an accident, G‑d forbid, on the way — and by being delayed my son was spared harm. I simply can’t get these preoccupations out of my head. In wondering why Shalom is not here, I have lost myself. Somewhere in this picture, I struggle to sense, there has to be something that G‑d has intended just for me. The liturgy somehow slowly seeps in. G‑d is forgiving, G‑d is merciful. If I continue to feel anger towards my husband, how is G‑d supposed to forgive me? I realize I need to pray: G‑d, help me to be free of anger and judgment and resentment. Help me to forgive others, help me to forgive myself. Help me to trust You. I can’t do it on my own.

I am suddenly aware that I am experiencing a new, deeper place of brokenness. Through tears and sobs, that echo the tears and sobs of so much pain during the past year, I come to realize that I need G‑d to restore me to sanity. It’s that obvious. So I ask. Rather, I beg. G‑d, please relieve me. I can’t do it without You.

I stop peering over the divider. I quit looking for my son. I look in my prayer book, but, blurred by my tears, I can’t see the words. I look up at the ner tamid – the Eternal Light. So small, so still. At Kol Nidrei, I spotted that steady little light, and decided: that is my soul: A light that is sustained by G‑d alone. A light that stays course, barely moving, only occasionally flittering. Steady. A pure glimmer surrounded by a sea of complexities, but a steadfast source of light. The light begins to anchor me. I am no longer preoccupied with Shalom. I hear Neilah. I am frightened that it is almost over. I hurry to catch up, wanting to savor those moments when I am locked in alone with G‑d, before the collective recitation of Shema that comes at the end of Yom Kippur.

I am crying again, but this time it’s because my soul has actually managed to unite with its source. Conscious thoughts are finally stilled. The essence of my being is unified with G‑d. I cry and shout: Baruch shem kevod malchuto le’olam va’ed – Blessed be the Name of the glory of His Kingdom forever and ever. I sway back and forth and plead: Hashem hu haElokim – G‑d is the L-rd. I am finally me. My voice is one instrument in the symphony of souls calling to G‑d in that Neilah moment. I am one of many but I am singular. My eyes are shut tightly. My face is tear-streaked. G‑d, I want only You.

I hear the shofar (ram’s horn). In past years its sound jubilantly enjoined me to song and celebration, L’shana haba-ah Birushalyim – Next year in Jerusalem. This time, I am still crying: G‑d, won’t you please sound the shofar of Moshiach? Around me, congregants are singing and dancing. I feel a nudge on my shoulder. I am not ready to respond. The nudge continues; finally it intrudes itself with a voice; a mother who prayed near me, whose child I insensitively “shushed” more than once this Yom Kippur, gives me a blessing: “I hope all your prayers are answered,” she lovingly offers. I think: She probably assumes I’ve been praying for the health of a loved one, or sustenance, or a husband for my daughter. Her tap helps me identify what my one and only prayer has been this Yom Kippur: G‑d, I want only You. Please help me to retain my recognition that You are the source of my serenity; You are my anchor; You create everything perfectly just for me; You won’t let me down; You will help me find peace; You keep me in Your picture; You sustain the light that is my soul. I am now ready to leave synagogue with me in You; without judgments and resentments. You have lifted these character defects. For today, You have answered my prayers.