Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Cry of Freedom

The daily Amidah includes a prayer for freedom. As part of my morning practice, in my personalized adaptation of the Amidah, I recite:  “May I be blessed, as a member of the great human family, to hear the shofar’s cry of freedom.” I penned that long enough ago that I had forgotten some of the intent with which I wrote it. I could retrace that thought process. On the other hand, today I have discovered a new path to its meaning. Rabbi Shefa Gold developed a chant derived from the Amidah text in question. She calls it: Freedom and Homecoming: A Chant for Rosh Hashana.


T’ka b’shofar gadol l’chayrutaynu
V’sa nes l'kabaytz g'luyotaynu
Sound the Great Shofar for our Freedom 
And raise the banner as we all come home.

She describes it as follows:
These  words are part of the daily Amida, but they can be chanted especially for Rosh Hashana as we gather the tribe in celebration of the New Year and all its possibilities. For me this prayer is an affirmation that while we each are sent far and wide to our freedom – to fulfill the destiny we are given – we can also return in celebration and be welcomed home.

Today, being the secular New Year and, depending on how you define it, the first day of my “retirement” from corporate life, I searched through Shefa’s archive of chants for one to focus on at this time. I picked this one. It’s perfect. As I finished chanting it I drew in a breath and searched for its meaning in this moment. From what am I being freed? To what am I coming home?

I could cynically exult in my liberation from the corporate arena, but that would actually be unfair. Say what one might about the evils of corporate life, the fact is it gave me a rich livelihood in many ways. Not only did it provide our family with material benefits, it offered me an environment within which I could learn and grow, develop meaningful relationships, express my creativity, and more. I am not being freed from a horrible institution into which I had been thrust unwillingly. It was the life I chose, for better or worse.

The answer to what I am leaving is the opposite of the answer to what I am coming home.

There is another part of my morning practice in which I ask myself what I choose to be, or do, or have this day. Today I chose to be fully Yeshaya Douglas Ballon. What did that mean to me today? It meant that the part of me that I never explicitly brought to the office—Yeshaya—is now an integral part of who I am and no longer needs to hide in the closet, so to speak. I was exclusively called “Doug Ballon” at Jones Lang LaSalle. They never even got much of a hint of my former “C. Douglas Ballon” persona. To spring Yeshaya on that them may not have been terribly problematic, but there was little incentive to do so. The question of whether I would ever be known as Yeshaya  or Yesh at work has now been resolved. In my farewell message to about one hundred colleagues I gave them my contact information using what I referred to as my full name: yeshaya.douglas.ballon@gmail.com. I didn’t make a big deal of it. I suspect most people ignored it. That was the full extent of “outing” myself at JLL. Of greater significance is that henceforth I anticipate using some form of Yeshaya everywhere, be it Yeshaya Ballon, Yeshaya Douglas Ballon, or simply Yesh. This isn’t just about a name. It’s about a presence. It’s about an awareness. It’s about an intention. It is more than an identifier. It’s my identity. It’s who I am.

This morning when I chose to fully be Yeshaya Douglas Ballon, I chose to leave behind the closeted Doug Ballon in favor of the liberated Yeshaya Douglas Ballon—one who marries his spiritual identity with his secular body of work, who places God before him always (or aspires to, at any rate). Today, this first day of a new year, this first day of a new life, I am free to be me. I am coming home to who I have always been, and to whom I have in many ways been afraid to be.

I am blessed in many ways. One way is by having the opportunity to engage in spiritual study. I have brought the gift of chant into my life with the love and support of many others. I chanted a new chant this morning: T’ka b’shofar gadol l’chayrutaynu / V’sa nes l'kabaytz g'luyotaynu, and then both literally and figuratively sounded my shofar for my freedom.