At our church, this means slowly parading from the back of the church to the front under the gaze of about a thousand people, while carrying containers of bread and wine that will be used for Communion. You really don’t want to drop them. I’ve always been the kind of guy who likes to sit in the back of the classroom or hide behind a blog like this. I’m not a natural bearer of public gifts.
My wife, however, doesn’t mind a little attention.
“Sure!” she said.
There were a couple problems I wished she’d considered.
That morning, as we were getting ready in the bathroom, she suddenly shrieked when some renegade soap squirted onto her sweater. Startled, I removed an electric toothbrush from my mouth in mid-cycle, spraying the front of my shirt with Colgate. If you’ve never done this, those stains don’t come out easily. But I was down to my last shirt and gingerly tried to remove them with water.
Had I known I’d be walking down the center aisle at church, I’d have worn some dressier clothes, like a sport coat and slacks. Instead I had on a button down from Costco and some khakis that were about 10 days overdue for dry cleaning.
As we sat down in our pew, I noticed that a baptism would be taking place during Mass. Typically, the baptismal family presents the gifts. “Listen,” I hissed to my wife, while eyeing the speckles of dried toothpaste across the upper regions of my shirt, “I’m gonna ask the usher about having the baptismal family do the gifts.”
I stood up only to hear my wife gasp, “Your pants!”
Indeed, the front of my khakis also had dried toothpaste splattered across them – but far more prominently than on my shirt. Covering up with my overcoat, anxiety rising, I retreated to the back of the church to lobby the usher.
With just a couple minutes left before Mass would begin, I rushed to the bathroom to battle the stains. Hurried and overzealous, I started slapping water all over the front of my pants. The stains got less white. But now I also looked like the victim of a very unfortunate accident.
Clutching my overcoat even tighter, I returned to our pew. And when I knelt to pray, I’m not ashamed to say that my biggest request was that my pants would dry in about 20 minutes. This modest blessing, I’m grateful to say, was granted, and we didn’t drop anything either on the way up to the altar.
Presumably, there’s a valuable spiritual lesson to be unearthed from this experience, perhaps something more than the usual platitudes about embracing the unexpected and taking life as it comes. When I figure it out, I’ll let you know. It likely has something to do with the power that humiliation or near humiliations have to keep us honest. Dante’s pilgrim cannot progress from Purgatory to Paradise, after all, until he rectifies one of his greatest flaws: pride.