How often do we ponder upon that which truly drives, informs and motivates our behavior?
Consider the holiday season of 2004. A class of first-graders at a New York City Catholic grammar school were putting on a Christmas pageant. The players were terribly excited and perhaps even a bit nervous.
A large gathering of parents was on hand, sitting in the many rows of chairs set up especially for this event. Many of the parents were toting cameras and even younger children. The parents knew they were about to experience one of the moments that makes life worth living. As the late John Candy said in the John Hughes film “Planes, Trains and Automobiles,” “Those are the precious moments … they don’t come back.”
To the left of the stage, out of sight from the audience, stood a diligent teacher who’d organized the players for this all-important night through countless rehearsals over the past several weeks.
One young student was of particular concern to the teacher. His name was Bryan, a dark-haired boy with bright blue eyes. He was the commissioned to play the role of the innkeeper.
Bryan had one simple line in the play. All he was required to say was: “There’s no room at the inn.”
It was a seemingly simple task. World War II airmen might have called this a “milk run.” A centerfielder might refer to it as “a can of corn.” This one simple line was a no-brainer, a slam-dunk, a sure thing. Or was it?
Only time would tell.
There they all were, in the midst of the Christmas pageant. Mary and Joseph were knocking on Bryan’s (sorry, the innkeeper’s) door.
“May we have a room please? We’re about to have a baby. We’re willing to pay whatever you wish,” the student-Joseph asked Bryan.
Then the worst possible thing that could have happened did in fact occur – Bryan froze.
He simply could not speak.
Bryan looked at Mary and Joseph.
He looked at his teacher.
He looked at all of those strange faces out in the audience, including his parents.
All those practice sessions had failed to yield fruit.
Poor little Bryan was on the verge of ruining the whole play for everyone – this while embarrassing himself and his parents in the process. Was this what his Christmas would boil down to? This was rapidly becoming a total Three Mile Island archetype meltdown.
After what seemed like an eternity, his teacher’s voice beckoned to Bryan from off stage. It was the voice behind the curtain calling out to “make things right.”
“There’s no room at the inn.” The teacher’s voice was kind, warm and reassuring.
Bryan paused. Then he drew in a deep breath. Finally, he delivered the predetermined line.
“There’s no room at the inn.”
There was a great collective sigh of relief in the audience. The teacher must have felt like a deer when the hunter’s scope passes on by, or a nervous rookie shortstop playing in the World Series who doesn’t want the ball hit to him.
But then there came a great shout. It was the kind of shout that doesn’t happen, isn’t supposed to happen, when a tense moment has passed on by.
“Wait!” Bryan exclaimed in front of his fellow actors, teacher and the audience. This wasn’t in the script. That much was for sure.
“Come back. There is room at the inn. You can have my room!”
At first only silence filled the school auditorium. Everyone on hand was simply stupefied. Then there came the sound of one clap, and then another and another.
And in no time everyone was clapping, standing and applauding this brave little boy, who against all odds, and in a spotlight few 7-year-olds could hope to stand up to, embraced the true meaning of Christmas. And that message is this: There is so often a voice (or voices) off stage telling us how to think and act and behave. Voices wishing for us to follow “the script” at all and any cost so that we may continue to think “inside the box.” Call it mass-media conditioning or by some other name, the results are still predictable.
Yet Bryan would have none of that. And neither should the reader. Think of the ironic world we live in, where the genre of TV “reality shows” have taken a dominant role while teaching us nothing about reality. In fact, they have taken our attention away from reality.
Reality revealed 21st century-style would explain that our body is not our soul and that this world is not our home.
Reality would labor to explain that all things are made of energy, and it is how we direct that energy that matters most.
Reality understands that our thoughts, ideas, attitudes and habits influence all of our actions, and it is those actions that lead us forward into the future. That said, the future is nothing more than a mathematical set of probabilities based upon what we think and do in the present. South America is very different from the U.S. because the Puritans sailed one way and the Conquistadors in another.
If the past is about guilt and the future is about fear, then it is the present we must focus upon most strongly. For God, while able to heal the past and already knowing future outcomes, most fully resides in the present. It is in the present that we are promised peace even while in this world. Dare we call God a liar?
Echoing Bryan’s song is the story of Mandi Lauderdale, the strawberry blonde siren who appeared as the star of the first truly successful reality TV series. It was called, as most readers know, “Temptation Island.” The real name of that idyllic island is Ambergris Caye, Belize. It is an orphan of the once mighty British Empire.
In the spring of 2001, Ms. Lauderdale shocked the Fox viewing audience of untold millions around the world when she told her boyfriend she was terribly sorry for flirting on the show with another man (thus the whole “temptation” atmosphere).
Mandi actually pleaded on-air for another chance to set things right with her boyfriend. It was inspiring, thrilling and moral. It probably wasn’t the ending most in the viewing audience had been expecting. Many had tuned in for more sleaze. Who knows what the show’s producers had been hoping for?
Yet in the end, the audience received and even embraced something beautiful, magical and perhaps even miraculous. The New York Post soon reported Mandi turned down $1 million to pose for Penthouse. Temptation had led to transformation.
Like Bryan and Mandi, we can try to ignore the voices behind the curtains of our lives and chart an equally miraculous course.