565: Go Inward

565: Go Inward

565: Go Inward


I’m Ada Limón and this is The Slowdown.

I love singing. But the thing that will move me almost to tears is the sound of voices harmonizing, commingling in the air.

When I was in Seattle at the University of Washington, I produced and directed my own show, called Sister Stories, which celebrated the diverse stories of a talented group of five women. I still don’t know how I found the time or the energy to rent the theater, organize rehearsals, and raise the money for the production (bare bones as it was). I feel exhausted just thinking about it now.

One moment I’ll never forget is when we were singing a song I’d written. I just wanted to hear it a capella in the theater and suddenly one woman started doing these incredible harmonies. And another did the same and the song transformed. It sounded like, well, it sounded like what wholeness should sound like. And it was all on instinct. I’ll never forget it because we all surprised each other. We couldn’t believe how beautiful it sounded. Our eyes locking as we kept singing. And suddenly I began to well up. I hadn’t really felt that experience before, a chorus of voices, so free sounding, so present and joyful.

It’s a moment I return to in my mind when I think about the ethereal goodness of human connections. The sounds of a choir during the holidays, the sounds of kids singing simple songs at a school. Joined voices is something I’ve missed so much during the pandemic and it’s something I’ve been holding on to in my body, missing and wanting back.

Today’s poem is in praise of that moment when song is more than song and voices joined are doing more than simply making music.

Go Inward
by Jen Levitt

It was for a friend’s wedding that I found myself
back in temple with a lapsed hippie rabbi
who, in honor of the 50th anniversary
of his bar mitzvah, had decided to swap the traditional
prayers for songs from Broadway shows.
The capacity crowd shook noisemakers
& sang “Good Morning Starshine”
with a joy that surprised, then overtook me—
like a stadium wave when the home team scores—
second only to Rabbi Jonathan himself
explaining how in God’s command to Abraham
to go forth & found a nation he noticed
the verb also means go inward, as in receiving
a stillness or sitting softly with oneself.
I thought of my father drowsy from chemo,
how we both needed this kind of attention,
a close reading, as would the country
a week later when at a synagogue in Pittsburgh
a man opened fire & thousands of Jews
& non-Jews returned to temple, in whatever
the opposite of an exodus is. When I was young,
I remember feeling faith privately, a direct
line to God, which the world or adulthood only
diluted. Three times a year I’d sing along
with the cantor, not knowing what the words meant.
That Saturday morning in temple, the leaves
changed & a congregation belted out Sondheim,
the country prepared to grieve, my father
coughed under covers, & I found in strangers
as much as in any book or prayer no promises
but, like hearing a rustle in deep woods & turning
to locate its source, the chance for something rare.

"Go Inward" by Jen Levitt. Used by permission of the poet.