Friday, November 01, 2013

Traumatic morning ends in redemption

From today's Briefing:

Katie and I are standing in the narthex at church. She twirls a brass processional candle — not yet lit — as we review the procedure.
As soon as prelude music begins, she will carry the lit candle and walk slowly yet purposefully down the aisle. When she reaches the altar, she will light two more candles, then return to the narthex and extinguish the flame.
While we wait for cues that her time is near, we talk about how long we’ve looked forward to this day, her first as acolyte.
“I’ve wanted to do this since I was 4,” she says, “when Cooper was first an acolyte. I knew I could be one, too, when I was 8, and now it’s finally here!”
“You were baptized on that same altar eight years ago, Katie,” I say. “Daddy and I took turns holding you. And now you are going to light candles in the very same place.”
The pipe organ comes to life. Katie takes a deep breath, and she begins her journey.
Three steps forward and the flame dies. Katie’s enthusiasm dims slightly.
I light the candle again, staring at the wick, somehow convinced that I can will it to cooperate.
Alas, I do not possess supernatural fire skills. By the time Katie reaches the altar, the flame is gone, and her slumped shoulders reveal deflating joy.
A nearby church member helps her light the processional candle again, and success seems within reach. But the altar candles won’t comply. They refuse to light.
Katie tries over and over again. All efforts are fruitless.
She leaves the altar, candles still unlit, and bolts out of the sanctuary, sobbing.
She runs into my arms, and I hug her tight. My sweater is damp with her tears, and my eyes are damp with my own. Our minister joins us to tell Katie that she did everything correctly, that there was trouble with the oil candles, that no one is upset, that everything is going to be OK.
Katie struggles to take shallow breaths between sobs.
What we don’t see: Another minister adjusting the oil candles. An usher repairing the wick on the processional candle.
After a little more crying and a lot of comforting, Katie says she wants to try again.
My first instinct is to say no, to shield her from the possibility of more disappointment, to cradle her like a baby for the next hour.
First instincts aren’t always admirable.
So she tries again. I light the wick. This flame is more confident.
Katie proceeds during the opening hymn. She steps on to the altar and lights two candles. I fight the urge to applaud.
She smiles as she returns to the narthex. We exchange high fives. We hug. Her tears are dry, yet mine return.
On the drive home, we rehash the traumatic, redemptive morning.
“Katie, we all would have understood if you hadn’t tried again,” I say. “But you didn’t give up. You were brave.”
In another month, Katie will be acolyte again. I’ll probably hold my breath the duration of her walk to the altar, and she’ll probably have no hiccups at all.
But she’ll always remember the Sunday morning when a big plan faltered — and she made a big recovery. I hope she’ll always draw from the same well of courage.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at

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