Saying Goodbye by Cantor Andrew Bernard

It started off like any other vacation. A crazy week of Shabbat prep mixed with a crazier week of travel prep. Friday night services and then rushing home to pack. Several pre-dawn cups of coffee on Saturday while wrapping up things at home and loading the suitcase into the car. An early morning swim before teen band rehearsal…teen vocal ensemble rehearsal…Congregational Shabbat service. A few quick goodbyes and then the drive to the airport. Fly north. Fly west. Baggage claim at Seatac (waiting…waiting…waiting…). Escalator…skybridge…elevator…parking garage…to the transportation bay. A 30-minute ride north. Arriving at my destination at midnight (Pacific time) and collapsing into bed after a 23-hour day. Whew! Made it!!

I woke up on Sunday morning to a gray, cold, damp Seattle morning. Aaaaah. A morning only a true Seattleite could love. Add a hot mug of coffee and you pretty much have paradise. Early in the afternoon I caught the bus over to the West Seattle Y. It was still cold and damp, but the gray was beginning to break up a little bit. By the time I finished my swim and began the bus ride home, the skies were absolutely clear. As we wound up and around the viaduct onto the West Seattle Bridge: Mt. Rainier crystal clear; the Cascade and Olympic Mountains brilliant as they can only be on those rare, cloudless winter days. And I just had to laugh.

Sometimes the Universe whispers in your ear. And then sometimes the Universe clubs you over the head with a two-by-four. On that Seattle Sunday — a gray, cold, and damp start followed by the most spectacular scenery of the Pacific Northwest — the Universe was not being remotely subtle: it’s time. It’s time to come home. You’ve been gone 23 years, and it’s time to return to the place your heart never left.

It is hard to get my head around 18 years at Temple Beth El. I could try looking at it by the numbers: 18 High Holiday seasons; 900 b’nei mitzvah, give or take; nine clergy partners. Or I could list the programs and projects: peer tutoring, human sexuality, teen band and vocal ensemble, Kabbalat Shabbat, Second Family, five liturgies, endless Powerpoints, ten musical compositions. Or maybe the healing and Yizkor d’rashes on Yom Kippur afternoon.

It’s a lot of stuff. But it is not the stuff I will carry with me. The truly important stuff is contained in the moments of human connection. Moments sitting across from a nervous bar mitzvah student or with a worried congregant in a hospital room. Moments sharing a snarky comment with a coworker to make them smile on a stressful day, or looking at the high holiday choir after a less-than-magical rehearsal moment and simply saying, “really???” Moments listening. Moments hugging. Eye-rolling moments. Laughing moments. Even the moments that took place in the very public venue of High Holiday services have been opportunities for me to share my most authentic self — not with a mass of people but with individuals sitting in the congregation.

Each of those moments has brought meaning to my life. The most basic function of religion is to provide a framework within which we can wrestle with the unknowable questions: why are we here? do our lives have meaning? what happens when we die? Of those three questions, it is the issue of meaning that we struggle with most. A whole branch of theology is dedicated to the question of why bad things happen to good people because we can’t accept that the difficult moments of our lives are devoid of meaning and purpose. And if the meaning is not apparent, we act to give it purpose. It is what makes us, as humans, resilient.

I will not have to look for purpose. You have all given me purpose. I return to Seattle with my heart overflowing — for the meaning you have given my life through those moments of connection is profound and bountiful. The experiences and memories each of us carries in our heart from those moments of human connection will be the truest measure of those 18 years.

With deepest gratitude,

One thought on “Saying Goodbye by Cantor Andrew Bernard

  1. Kim Sorell

    Cantor Bernard,
    You have been with us for both of our sons bar mitzvahs. Thank you.
    Your faith and presence gave Vali and me strength, when we couldn’t find it within ourselves. You sat with us, almost every day of the 28 days we we lived at Levine Children’s Hospital. Thank you.
    We don’t cross paths much any more., but there isn’t a week that goes by that I don’t think of you. When we reminisce about the boys youth, bar mitzvah training with you and tutoring for you, the questions they came home with from your sex-ed course, Joshua’s illness and your dedication to our family at that time, and so much more. Thank you. You are forever in our hearts.
    Kim Sorell

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