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Galvanized at Heart
I remember it was a Saturday. My parents and I arrived at my local church, parking near the entrance. This was going to be my first time altar serving in a real mass. I had prepared for several months learning the different parts of the mass, practicing the ways I was supposed to help the priest – and ultimately gaining the confidence to stand in front of the entire congregation, moving about and handling sacred objects without making any mistakes.
In my mind, I was filled with excitement, and it exhilarated me. Yet, there was a sly hint of nervousness that crept upon the hairs of my neck, biting me in little pricks. There was also a fear of failure, a great one. But I decided that these emotions were regular to feel, but not normal enough that I tried to suppress them with all my might. To my chagrin, however, my uneasiness consumed me whole.
As I unbuckled my seatbelt and hopped out of the car, I hugged my parents for a source of comfort and assurance. As we made our way to the front doors, I could feel the weather cool as the power of the sun’s heat began to diminish. I closed my eyes for a moment and immersed myself in the tranquility of the moment. As we passed by a small garden of roses surrounding a statue of Mother Mary, I picked up a scent of something so beautiful and mesmerizing that it felt like I had made my official entrance as an altar server.
“Hello, you must be Jonathan,” said a lady whom I assumed to be one of the sacristans of the mass.
I nodded silently, answering her question but also spelling shyness with my awkward movements; I averted my eyes to the ground to avoid any eye contact and kept silent.
“Nice to meet you, Jonathan. I believe you’ll be our altar server today. Sorry for the late notice, but the other servers unfortunately aren’t available today, so you’ll be serving by yourself. Is that okay?”
By myself! The words hit me like a brick wall. Like I had been knocked out by a boxing glove driven by the explosive punch of Mike Tyson.
No, no, no, no, no. This can’t be true. How can I possibly altar serve an entire mass by myself when this is my first time! I can’t do it. I can’t do it. I won’t! A swarm of negative thoughts buzzed around in my head like desperate bees stuck in a trap.
Involuntarily, I looked back at the sacristan and nodded. It felt like the weight of the world’s gravity had doubled against my neck in just that instance -- like the universe contravened all my interests.
“Well then, you can go ahead and get dressed in the preparation room. We’ll see you out soon.”
I started walking down the left-most aisle of the church, along a sturdy, concrete wall that carried murals glowing in beautiful amber light. I saw the choir practicing and heard glorious hymns emanating from joyful faces, layered by a sublime piano. As I looked back, I noticed the seats of the church starting to fill, one by one. From my view, the church looked majestic, and I was slightly in awe. Yet some indescribable and undesirable feeling of despair loomed around my ankles as I walked forth.
My mother and I entered the preparation room, with which I was reasonably familiar from previous training sessions. I opened the large, white closet filled with various sizes of altar serving garb. Standing on my tip-toes, I searched through the hangers. Size 16. Too big. Size 14. Still too big. Size 11. Perfect.
As I tied around my waist a greenish yarn belt, I looked at the clock standing on the wall ticking closer and closer to 5:00; the start of the mass was imminent.
I took an invisible gulp of agitation as my palms turned sweaty, and my knees started trembling. I could hear the heavy sound of my breath and the fast, pounding beat of my heart as if it was a locomotive racing down a thunderous avalanche, my viscera going wild. I felt sick. I was scared and drenched in fear. I was so scared that I started crying. I started crying so much that my mom embraced me with her arms, running her fingers through my black hair.
“Jonathan, you’ll be fine,” my mother said as sniffles escaped from my nose. “You are doing a wonderful thing as an altar server, and I am so, so proud of you. There is nothing to worry about, especially in God’s presence. Here, the mass is about to start, so let’s get you out there.”
I couldn’t explain it at the time, but my mother’s words wrapped around my mind and heart like a remedy, healing my worries and soothing my feelings. My eyes still watery, I walked out of the room, with a tiny spark of hope.
As I walked out of the room holding my mother’s hand, I saw a familiar face sitting in the front row. It was a face so loving and so benevolent that the tears on my cheeks evaporated into mists of joy, and my raindrop of confidence transformed into a beautiful sea of strength and confidence. It was my grandmother sitting there. It was my grandmother who came to support me. It was my grandmother who, with the passion of her eyes, said: I love you.
With a sudden surge of conviction, I told myself that I would serve in the mass for my grandmother. I would do it for the person who raised me as an infant. I would do it for the person who would run to the ends of the Earth just to see me. I would do it for the person who loved me with all her heart. I would serve for my grandmother.