As a child, I attended Catholic mass with my family almost every single Sunday. I never looked forward to it and tried in vain every weekend to ‘sleep in’ so I wouldn’t have to go. (But any Catholic-raised child will tell you that the “still sleeping” trick never works.)
One of the things I found most bothersome at church was how robotic the congregation always sounded while saying prayers en masse. Everybody chanted in the same monotone, taking breaths at the same intervals and coming to full stops at exactly the same time. Our Father. Who art in heaven. Hallowed be thy name. Drone drone drone drone drone drone drone… It was kind of spooky, to tell the truth. Cult-ish, almost.
Other people at church must have felt the same way, too, because a few took it into their own hands to ‘jazz up’ the way they personally recited the prayers. Now, in between the bored-sounding drones of the Congregation Proper, the self-assured voice of a zesty soloist would cut through: OurFatherwhoartinheaven! Hallowedbethynamethykingdomcome! Thywillbedoneonearthasitisinheaven!! Zing! Pop! Shazam! Timing! Totally! Off!
There were also the people who took it upon themselves to put customized emphasis on certain words during the prayers, as though they wanted God to know that they were thoughtfully deliberating the meaning of each word, not just going through the motions on autopilot like everyone else in the church. Our Fatherrrrrr. Who art! In heeeaaavennnnn. HALLOWED be Thy. Name. (As though God would be focusing down intently from heaven on that particular church during the recitation of the Our Father and nodding in approval. ‘Yes, yes. That Ruth– she sure says my prayer with conviction! Angels: put her on my personal guest list so she doesn’t have to wait in line at the pearly gates when her time comes.’)
I felt it then and I felt it now: there is a time and a place to express your individuality and to demonstrate to the world that you refuse to fit into some mold. To think outside the box! To be your OWN PERSON!!! However. Church might not be the best time to march to your own drum. Saying the words to prayers faster doesn’t mean that you know them better, and besides: God already knows what a special snowflake you are, precious! So just fall into line with the rhythm of the prayer and deal with it. You can speak with passion and enthusiasm some other time! And that way, the people around you won’t get flustered by your staccato beats and won’t mess up their own lines, either. Everybody wins!
Another totally inappropriate time/place to establish your own special pace is during Step Class at the local YMCA. (For example. Totally hypothetical.) Here’s a thought: The reason why those infectious beats are blaring over the loudspeakers is to establish the rhythm for everybody. Not just for some or most of the step class participants: that rhythm is for everybody! Do you hear the instructor yelling out the numbers 1, 2, 3, and 4 repeatedly? And did you notice that these numbers coincidentally happen to match up with the down beats of the songs? WHAT A CONCEPT!!
This afternoon, in the step class I so dearly love at the Y, I was stuck directly behind a woman who insisted on performing all of the routines about a fraction of a step ahead of everybody else. On an ordinary day, this might not have irritated me like a thousand tiny ants crawling all over my skin, but well. Today it did. We’d learn a new series of steps from the instructor and then add them to our routines. Every side kick of hers came just before the downbeat. Every three-knee repeater was ever so slightly ahead of pace. I knew she was doing it deliberately. (It wasn’t an issue of rhythm, trust me. She could march to the beat just fine.) I could tell she wanted to prove her step class prowess and flaunt her uniqueness and exquisite individuality to the rest of the class. (And probably to God.) ‘I’m such a quick learner!’, she was probably thinking. ‘Nobody else can perform this routine quite as deftly as I can!’
I shot her a withering glare (backwards, through the mirror on the front wall), and I hoped that the intensity of my steely gaze would exert some sort of magnetic pull on her steps and pull them into line with everyone else’s. It didn’t work. She continued to out-V step, out-ham curl, and out-jump shot everyone else in the class. HOW INFURIATING!! It was as if she was declaring to the world that the routines, in themselves, were not challenging enough for her superior self: they all needed to be performed faster and not in time with the music if she was to gain any physical benefits from them. This. Drove. Me. Nuts.
Years of pent-up frustration toward the aberrant prayer-sayers of my childhood bubbled up in my belly and threatened to boil over onto this 2-fast-4-U stepper. ‘Now is not the time!’, I wanted to shriek at the back of her head. ‘Now is not the place!!!!!’ (I’m sure that would have gone over really well at the Y. ‘The YMCA is a caring and inclusive environment’… except when Dana L. goes on a metronomic rampage and starts swatting at anyone who is ever so slightly out of step.)
I decided to leave the class early.
I know: lame, right? And petty, yes? Whatever. I learn new things about myself every day, and today’s lessons are:
1. Going to church throughout my childhood left deeper scars than I thought. NOBODY CAN BREAK THE ESTABLISHED RHYTHMS OF SONG, STEP, AND PRAYERS!!
2. I must have been an overzealous metronome in a past life. (And yes: I realize that metronomes are inanimate keepers of tempo.)
3. Sometimes, the adult thing to do is just leave.
4. Faster does not equal better.