When he appeared before the Besht to try out, he stood before the great Rabbi and in an instant, suddenly forgot everything he'd learned over the years. Instead, he trembled and began to feel all the suffering in his life, the lives of his loved ones.
Then he began to weep.
As he wept, he felt the sorrow of the whole world in his heart, all the loss and agony and fear and everything. And he sobbed louder, gasping, wailing, unstoppable. After some time he caught his breath for a moment, and breathed a deep sigh.
But then he felt another jolt: all the deepest joys of life: his own, his family's, every joy from a new shirt that someone got to wear for the first time to a baby's first steps, to a father seeing his daughter get married, everything.
And he wept anew, overwhelmed by everything he felt, louder and harder than before. He was so overcome by his feeling and his tears that he blinked hard, looked at the Besht and said, "Rabbi, I don't know how to play this thing. I don't remember anything I've studied. I can't do it, I'm sorry."
And the Besht urged him, "Put the ram's horn to your lips and sound it."
After some hesitation the man did as he was told, and the sound that came out, while tears streamed down his cheeks, filled the whole town, filled the valley and the hills that lay beyond the town. The sound was so big and so profound and beautiful that it was enough to make old people forget their physical aches and make the rams in the hills dance.
And the Ba'al Shem Tov said to the young man, "You will be my shofar player."
I have been thinking of this story since Emily shared it with us yesterday. And I've also been thinking about the precarious balance between ego and humility, something every musician must wrestle with.
I spent a lot of time trying to hide from my gift. I was afraid of it. I didn't want it. I didn't know why at first, but as I grew up and begn to tentatively take my first steps towards Getting Serious about making music, I came to understand that what I really didn't want was the responsibility for the gift. I didn't want to have to teeter between ego (which every musician needs some of in order to push themselves farther along and boost their own spirits when things get hard) and humility (which is easy to get carried away with -- or to lose sight of -- if one doesn't pay attention to their heart along the way).
But what I think God, or the Universe, or just plain Life (you pick) has said to me over the last couple of years, and the message which became crystal clear yesterday, was this: You're a musician. You can't really be anything else. This is the gift you were given. You can piss on it, or you can put it to greater use. Get to work.
So I guess that's my task in the coming year: to keep at it, to learn more things, to find people to learn with and from and to grow this thing I do so I can be of more use with it. And as daunting as that feels today, right now, it is what it is.
I am grateful beyond measure for the wisdom I heard yesterday, and for the gift of music, which is not mine because it didn't come from me. It came through me, it's on loan, and all I can do is to add to it with what I learn and create. May I be up to the task ahead, whatever it looks like.