It was crowded on the altar last night.
Everyone was gathered to celebrate the initiation of five students from the college. Hundreds of students were there, and it felt like half of them were up in the sanctuary serving in various capacities. I was thrilled: the community was well-represented, there were plenty of musicians and servers and readers. I was thrilled, that is, until someone put out a second music stand.
I was suddenly trapped in my spot at the edge of the soprano section, with no way to get to the conductor’s stand for the pieces I was directing. The second music stand left a sliver of space between the doubled-up stands and the short table next to the presider’s chair. It came time for the Gloria and I played it safe, walking all the way around the stand, crossing in front of the altos to arrive at the correct side of the music stand, facing the choir. I tried to be appropriately reserved in my conducting, considering the very visible positioning of the conductor in this particular worship space. I stepped aside for the first reading, conducted the psalm, then returned to my spot in the soprano section.
My next responsibility was to conduct the Litany of the Saints, which for a number of reasons took me by surprised. I decided to slide between the stand and the presider’s table to get to my spot. In an effort to slip between the obstacles I sucked it in, which in retrospect seems foolish because you can’t suck in your calves or the flare of your skirt, and one of those two things was what hit the paper cup of water, causing a deluge smack in the middle of the floor.
Marble floor. Eight to ten ounces of water. Six verses of the Litany coming up. As I thumbed through the rite to make sure I knew when to start the Litany I tried to get the attention of any of the servers. The pages to the rite were sticking. Finally made aggressive eye contact with one server who is adept at reading my facial expressions. I made a spreading gesture with my hands toward the floor, mouthing “water” with as many exclamation points as a silent word can have. He stood up. I glanced at the rite. They left out the last words of the prayer preceding the litany. Moment’s pause – ready or not, here we come.
Mary and Joseph…pray for us. Michael and all angels…pray for us. We were inching through the saints as the water crept across the floor, under the presider’s chair, under my stand. I, with my propensity for slipping even when there is no reason to, kept my feet very still. My conducting was still subdued – at this point there were three catechumens between the assembly and me, and they deserved better than to have to watch spastic arms and an awkward tap dance as I tried to keep my suede shoes dry. Just stand still and beat quarter notes I thought.
We made it through to the final “Lord, Jesus, hear our prayer”. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a server standing holding a towel. As soon as I sense some motion coming from the ministers and catechumens I made my move, assuming their ritual action would distract from my decisive stride to the server and back to my stand, and from the fact that I dropped to the ground Cinderella-style to mop up the water as if it were the most natural thing in the world. My boss came over to direct the next piece and looked at me like I was nuts. I just whispered “watch your step”.
I thought I had it all so I went back to the soprano section. As soon as I turned to face the director I saw under the glare of the lights that the floor was still soaked. Then I remembered that we had taper candles in our binders because they would soon be turning all the lights off. This could get even worse, I thought to myself, as I pictured the director slipping on the water in the dark.
Then I realized, with great relief, that the catechumens were about to process to the back of the Church to the font. Everyone was going to turn around to watch the baptism. As soon as the last head turned I made my move. I swooped back in on the towel I had left out of the way and pounced on the puddle. I squatted and mopped, found more mess, whispered to some of the tenors “Is the assembly still turned around?”, got an affirmative answer, and kept wiping until I had it all. I was on my feet, towel free and in the soprano section before the baptisms had even started.
Crisis averted. Just another one for the memoirs.
I have spent today contemplating the confidence that comes with having made every possible mistake. I have forgotten which response we were on and starting singing “Cr-amen”. I have fallen in front of classes. I have biffed words to the most recognizable aria known to man during an audition. I’m still standing.
You’ll notice from my reaction to the spill – and I hope that people last night noticed, or, rather, didn’t notice – that I didn’t really do anything other than deal with it. No wild gestures, no shouts of frustration (although I let out an utterance sotto voce that I probably shouldn’t own to, given the context), no dramatic admissions or apologies. I used what I knew about the liturgy to keep from being a distraction, and I cleaned up the silly mess.
Knowing that when something comes up I can just deal with it allows me to take chances. It allows me not only to be bold but simply to be present, ready to react to whatever is unexpected in my day or in my life. I don’t have to spend my life dodging spills and crises, because I know that when they come, large or small, I have to tools to get through it (even if I have to ask the server for a towel).