Of all the tortures concocted in Guantanamo Bay to squeeze the turban size of Osama Bin Laden from his former haberdasher none can compare to exposing the bloodthirsty terrorist to a high school talent show, though I am told the Geneva Convention may have something to do with its suppression. I was an active and willing participant in such displays of mediocrity (at best) some twenty-two years ago, and can only now speak of it. I will never be able to fully atone for exposing my parents to the horror and marvel at their strength of character in not running from the auditorium screaming and foaming at the mouth. We always thought our parents were crying with pride and joy; now we know that it was merely an outward sign of their pain.
In 1984 I performed not once but twice; first, I sang Bryan Adam’s breathy and gruff “Straight from the Heart” in a non-breathy and clearly off-key voice that induced incontinence in anyone over forty. My second number was quite serendipitous: a talentless cheerleader had roped her football-playing squeeze to sing “Just You and I” by Eddie Rabbitt and Crystal Gayle (a song that made toenails curl even before our ungodly duet hacked it); the football player wisely booked a week before the show, and I was tapped to replace him lest the cheerleader display a well-choreographed and rhythmic tantrum. I felt like a headliner – two performances! Of course, the cheerleader sounded like Minnie Mouse and I a cross between Willie Nelson and Peter Brady but the cheerleading squad in the front row all hugged and smiled, and I did manage a few dates out of the whole affair, so all’s well that ends well.
Some other hits mangled by students that fateful year: “To Sir with Love” (Sir attempted suicide during the song), a sprightly piano rendition of the theme from “St. Elmo’s Fire” (the strings all had to be replaced afterward), and my personal favorite, the theme from “Ice Castles”.
Please don't let this feeling end
It's ev'rything I am
Ev'rything I want to be
I can see what's mine now
Finding out what's true
Since I found you
Looking through the eyes of love…
Even now those lyrics can induce vomiting. It is truly one of the sappiest songs ever written; I have seen patients over the years display stroke-like symptoms after hearing it on the radio, and several states have banned it for fear of motor vehicle accidents. The rendition performed in 1984 at Depew High was truly the most effective means of torture ever concocted in the annals of man’s injustice to men.
Nonetheless, even in times of strife there are signs of light, and a friend recognized the power of the lyrics as a source of levity; whenever a classmate would get heavy and melodramatic about something that meant a lot to them (examples: “I really feel like I am called to be the leader of the free world” or “I am so happy when I am writing poetry about death”) he would raise his eyebrows, turn to me an whisper, “Ice Castles”. Those two words became a pithy description of the emotionally driven epiphanies that are so commonplace in the hormonally-charged years of our lives. They were a humorous avenue to not take ourselves quite so seriously. We needed that. Still do.
Over the years I have seen so many instances of “Ice Castles”; among religious circles those “called by God to (fill in the blank)” abound. It can all sound so monumental and dramatic…but somewhere in the mix of emotion and melodrama lays the reality that each of us is called to be humble servants:
You have been told, O mortal, what is good,
and what the LORD requires of you:
Only to do justice and to love goodness,
and to walk humbly with your God.
I recall dinner parties and parish ice-cream socials where I was cornered and trapped by someone who has finally realized his calling, only to see it dissipate in a month or two for the next endeavor…and I regretfully admit to doing the same to others, inducing blank stairs and drooling. We have a penchant for the dramatic; perhaps it is a longing. I mean, c’mon, the Hebrews got a pillar of fire; would an occasional inferno and deep voice be too much? If the best we can cling to is a grilled-cheese sandwich that looks like our savior I might voice to the Lord that a big Old Testament style miracle would be handy. Nonetheless, in His wisdom we are called to faith without seeing…so an occasional pontification on discernment that may or may not be factual is understandable and forgivable, if not regrettable.
So what of “walking humbly with our God?” I propose: when we find ourselves feeling a bit grandiose (“I truly am the funniest blogger EVER”) it is a good thing to look in the mirror, raise our eyebrows and whisper “Ice Castles”. It works.