I got a phone call the other night that scared me to death – but I want to tread carefully here so I am not giving the slightest hint as to who it involved. About 10:45 Thursday night the phone rang- and it was the spouse of one of my senior choir members, wondering if his or her spouse had been at choir rehearsal earlier that evening. They were not, I said (in fact, very few people were able to attend that night) and when I asked if everything was okay, the caller replied that they had not seen their spouse or heard from them at all since they left for work that morning.
In just those few words, I found myself almost smothered in terrified fear. For someone who prides himself in being a fairly positive, look-on-the-bright-side kind of guy, my mind tends to race to the worse case scenario. . . and it certainly did in this case. I was imaging all kinds of awful possibilities, each one worse than the next, to the point where I was thinking about how unbelievably hard it would be for the choir to sing for their colleague’s funeral . . . and of how important it would be to choose songs that would be meaningful and yet which we could manage to sing without falling apart because of our grief.
Is that crazy or what? I have no way of knowing if this person is even sick, let alone deceased, and I’m already thinking about his/her funeral. I think we call that a classic case of Jumping To Conclusions, but on steroids! But I think because we were talking about one of my choir members and somebody I think highly of, my worst-case- scenario syndrome was operating at an especially potent level. I think the moral of the story is that you don’t really know how much somebody means to you until something raises the possibility (however remote or uncertain) that something bad may have befallen them.
Fast-forwarding a few minutes. . . I hung up with the caller at 10:46 and told my wife that I was unlikely to sleep a week that night without knowing what had happened to this choir member – and spent the next minutes pacing around the room, doing a very poor job of staying calm. Then at 11:15, the phone rang again – and it was this person – not the spouse but rather the choir member themself – calling to say that they were home and fine. It turns out that something very complicated had happened at work and it was impossible for them to leave until the situation was rectified, but he or she had no means of calling home. So the mystery was solved, the person was home, and as soon as their spouse told them that they had called me and presumably scared me half to death (more like 4/5’s, but who’s counting?) he or she got on the phone that very second to let me know that they were okay and that they were sorry about the scare.
I’ve been thinking a lot about that thirty minutes of fear I experienced. . . and it brought back something from my senior year at college that I had not thought of in many years. I befriended several freshman music majors my senior year, much the same way that an upperclassman music major named Brian Newhouse had befriended and mentored me. One Sunday afternoon in the dead of winter, one of those young friends was terribly overdue coming back from an out-of-town trip. . . and when his roommate called me, sobbing, and asked me to come over right away, I was sure that Dan had just received word that Brad had been killed or severely injured in a car accident. I remember throwing on some dress clothes (it didn’t seem right to show up looking ratty) and grabbed my Bible and then ran to Ylvesaker Hall as fast as my legs would carry me. Well, it turns out that Dan had not heard anything definitive (and awful) about Brad’s fate when he called me crying – he was just scared and upset and wanted me to come over. And actually by the time I walked into Dan’s room, he was on the phone with Brad’s relatives he had been visiting, who explained that he had gotten away much later than he had intended, and that he was probably fine. And sure enough, a few minutes later Brad came walking in as though nothing was the matter. (You have to remember that this was 25 years ago, when the only people with anything remotely resembling a cell phone were maybe agents of the C.I.A. Maybe.) Anyway, those few minutes were one of the hardest emotional roller coasters of my whole life. . . and there is something a bit disconcerting in realizing that a quarter of a century later I am still jumping to conclusions and planning people’s funerals when I should be staying calm, getting a grip, and waiting until something more is known.
Maybe it’s that these situations both involved settings where I saw myself as something of a shepherd. . . 25 years ago because I was seasoned and experienced senior trying to help a scared freshman, and the other night because it was a member of the church choir I lead and for whom my affection runs very deep. At any rate, when I care about someone this seems to be one of the chief ways in which I demonstrate that – by panicking when I think that something bad may have happened to them. And if there’s anything worth remembering about that, it’s that nobody wants a panicky shepherd, which is why it’s probably a good thing that I make my living doing something else!
pictured above: some of the members of the Holy Communion Senior Choir. This picture happened to be taken Christmas Eve.