Sometimes you stand in line to get somewhere.
Sometimes it’s the destination.
Coming up from the Metro escalator at Cleveland Park I could hear the sound of people sighing. The sight of the line stretching out from the synagogue and down Porter Street was daunting.
But it was dark and the trees obscured the street lamps and like a long tunnel where you know there’s an end, but you can’t quite see it, I walked toward the darkness looking for light.
It was 6:00 o’clock, the Community Service and Solidarity Gathering for Tree of Life Synagogue didn’t start for another 30 minutes. But even then I knew I wouldn’t get inside.
I walked past hundreds of people all waiting, talking, wondering if Adas Israel was at capacity. But more amazing were the hundreds that came afterward. The ones who showed up at the end of this half mile long line after the service had begun knowing full well they would never get there. But they kept coming. And coming.
Even after the service started and their faces lit up blue as they watched the on a live stream, they kept coming.
Everyone’s phone seemed to have a different signal, some a few minutes ahead others just a few words behind. But nobody left. Everybody listened, huddling close to watch.
The week continued apace until there was #showupforShabbat.
We arrived at the 6th and I synagogue thirty minutes early. We walked past the front door and the security guards and began following a line of people that seemed to stretch barely down the street.
It was raining a bit and umbrellas obscured our view as we continued walking. We thought we had reached the end, but it was a street corner that turned into an alley that turned into a dead end and then wrapped through a parking lot and back again.
We parked ourselves at the end of the line and waited along with everyone else.
My wife had a hood to protect her from the rain, and a young man (late 20’s) behind us asked if I’d like to share his umbrella.
The line was young, white and black, some Kippot, some bare. Most were not on their phones, they were talking with the people around them. At first they talked about whether they would get in, when might the rain stop.
But soon it turned to, “Where are you from?” “Have you been here before?”
There was no talk of politics, no discussions about Election Day because nobody seemed to know each other and nobody wanted to assume.
Again, it was a group of random people waiting in a line to get to a place they would likely never see. But even on this rainy night, they were content to stand and wait and talk.
The rain came harder. Some people walked to the front of the line and then came back to report their findings. A rumor spread that a second service might open up at 7:30 when the first was over.
Even when it was confirmed that the room was full, nobody left. In the patter of the rain, the rumble of a night in Chinatown, hundreds of people stood together sharing umbrellas and stories with no agenda.
In his famous commencement address, called “This is Water,” David Foster Wallace talks about the petty frustrations of waiting in line and how we can use this time more effectively.
“The point is that petty, frustrating crap like this is exactly where the work of choosing comes in. Because the traffic jams and crowded aisles and long checkout lines give me time to think, and if I don’t make a conscious decision about how to think and what to pay attention to, I’m going to be pissed and miserable every time I have to food shop, because my natural default-setting is the certainty that situations like this are really all about me”
And so for the second time in a week a service came and went without a whisper of disappointment or complaint. It was time to go and we walked toward the overlit streets from our bunker in an alley behind a synagogue from a group of people whose names we’d never know.
I never made it in. But I was there.
What I found in those lines was exactly what I came for.
The camaraderie and community that one needs in a time of crisis. The generosity of a young man from Venezuela who offered to share his umbrella. The kindness of strangers who lent someone a tissue from their purse, a Tylenol from their pocket, a tip for where to eat in the neighborhood.
Robert Granader, a Washington resident, is founder and CEO of Market Research.com.