Wednesday, December 23, 2015
A blessed loss of words
I'm guessing that the choices Sunday School teachers make about who's going to be Mary and Joseph and the shepherds are done on the basis of answers to two questions--which of the kids will do a good job? and which of them, well, deserve it (as in, who wasn't the star last year?)? I don't know. I'm just guessing.
Even in heart of evangelicaldom, the Judean hills these days are peopled with cross-gendered shepherds, middle-school kids including young ladies head-and-shoulders taller than their male shepherd buddies. Yesterday, one of the burlapped-clothed low-lifes, the one with the longest staff, the tallest of the boys, stood up front, took the mike from a little girl shepherd in front of him, and said his well-practiced lines pointedly and precisely. Had he been my grandson, I'd have beamed. For each of the seven acts of the Christmas play, he rattled through the verses, quite elegantly, in fact.
Save one. Act Six.
That one time, the little shepherd spoke her lines out clearly, and politely handed him the mike. But his memory, at that moment, had left the building. As far as he was concerned, the whole world was watching and the right words were nowhere to be found. There the kid stood, resoundingly mute, his sweet little mind gone stark, raving blank as if he'd never memorized a thing. He could have squeezed like a lemon and nothing could have come. Blank--nothing at all, and his failure only increased his horror. The words were totally irretrievable.
Hundreds of kid-worshippers never noticed his silence because a host of pre-schoolers were stealing the show as promiscuously as they always do. Hardly anyone noticed. Only the boy's parents and probably a few others witnessed the deep freeze.
The show galloped on. The pianist gave him five seconds before barreling into the next number, throngs of first and second graders following her lead by romping into the next rousing carol. Hardly anyone noticed.
That he went momentarily blank wouldn't have been a problem if the poor kid could have laughed it off. But his being conscientious likely got him chosen for a major role, and because he is, he could not forgive himself. Even if the rest of the church had moved on, the poor kid read the headlines in his heart: YOU FORGOT YOUR LINE, DUMMY.
A tear came. And when one slipped out, another followed, and then another, and another, water works he was powerless to stop.
Act Seven. The shepherds have lines as another passage of Luke 2 gets recited. That same little girl shepherd hands him the mike, and this time, still sniffling, he nails it.
No matter. In his heart, the damage is done. He no more than gets out the words, passes the mike on, and starts crying again, wiping his eyes with the back of his hands.
A hundred kids are up there with him, but once the spigot opened, he couldn't close it. As irrepressible as a church giggle, those tears kept coming and he kept wiping 'em away.
Even as the stage emptied at the end of the show, he was trying to hide the evidence, trying to be the man he just could not be right then.
I'd like to think that once he opens his presents this Christmas, his oh-so-public horror will be gone, but I doubt it. My guess is that speechless moment and the flood of tears it wrought will make a print in the wet cement of his memory.
It's altogether too easy to smell the irony here too--poor kid can't forgive himself for what happened in a pageant meant to honor baby Jesus, the Lord of forgiveness. Someday, he'll figure that all out.
But it's the human story I'm drawn to: nervous as a colt, this kid wants to get it all right, then finds himself as bereft of words as the priest Zacharias. Just nothing there, and that empty brain wipes him out with a flood of tears, even though nobody cared but him.
But, dang it, he did. He messed up.
Here's what I'm thinking this morning. Someday, when his own daughter plays a shepherd in the church Christmas program, he won't mention what happened, because he won't want to risk passing along to his daughter the same tearful horror. He won't tell her; he'll be just as silent as he was yesterday.
So it'll stay there, playfully, a memory, a story, a moment in time he'll never forget. The tears are gone already, I'm sure; and whenever he'll remember last night, a decade from now or two or three or four, there will be nothing on his face but a smile.
Sometimes--and this is the lesson of Christmas--forgiveness is as easy as that.
But mostly it's not, and that, I suppose, is why we need to hear the old, old story again and again, even when it's told by screaming three-year-olds and a gaggle of cross-gendered shepherds, who listen to the angels tell them for a three-hundred millionth time, at least, "Fear not--we bring good tidings of great joy. "
Just wipe away those tears.
rpt. from Christmas, 2009
Posted by J. C. Schaap at 6:17 AM