I’ve never been comfortable speaking in front of large groups of people. Blood rushes to my face, my legs feel shaky, I begin to sweat profusely, and my concentration levels deplete to the point of absurdity. Responding to the simplest question amounts to an obstacle of insurmountable proportion. Responses come out as either unintelligible or incomprehensible
Literally any Person: Carrot, how are you doing?
I was 12 years old when I had my first public speaking disaster. Our Lady Queen of Peace! In case it’s not obvious, this was a Catholic school. Not only a Catholic school, this was my Catholic school. We had to go to Mass on Wednesday mornings. If you’ve never been to a Catholic Mass on a Wednesday morning, you’re missing out. For one thing, there are plenty of available seats. Those who populate the vacant pews consist primarily of Church Ladies, home schoolers, and students who have to go to Mass on Wednesday mornings.
It was seventh grade, and in seventh grade the students at Our Lady Queen of Peace were given the
anxiety inducing burden privilege of taking part in weekly Mass. Each week there were seven students conscripted to partake in either The First Reading, The Second Reading, The Prayer of the Faithful, or The Presentation of Gifts. I have no idea how the students were selected, but each Friday the sacrificial lambs were designated, giving them the weekend to subdue the dread and prepare.
The first time my name was called I dodged a holy bullet.
Teacher: Carrot, Marc, Yolivia, Brent, you will be responsible for The Presentation of the Gifts.
Carrot’s Internal Dialogue: WOOT WOOOOT!!!
The Presentation of the Gifts is the best. No lines to read, you get out of class early, you’re celebrated by the Church Ladies, plus you get to do it with your friends. This felt like an act of Grace! Poor Maria though, she just got sequestered to do a reading for the second time. Ouch!!!
I figured I would be safe from getting designated for the rest of the year! I was wrong. A few weeks later during Friday’s Rose Ceremony, Mrs. Wozniak started calling names. Maria was first (Maria was a great public speaker, but three readings in one semester is brutal). Eric was second (good luck Eric).
Teacher: And doing The Prayer of the Faithful this week…Carrot.
Wednesday morning rolls around, Maria, Eric, and I are sitting at our designated spots just to the left of the lectern. Maria is basically a Nun by now. She kills. Next is Eric, and in all honesty I’m secretly hoping that he chokes, so I won’t look that bad. But he gets up there and channels the lord in ways that make him sound like the Deacon of Hagia Sophia.
Mass is moving along and eventually I’m called up to speak. If you’ve never heard of The Prayer of the Faithful, it’s essentially a series of intentions or short shout-outs that the congregation works together to boost up to heaven. For example, the reader may say: ‘for the needs of the church’. To which the congregation shouts back in unison ‘Lord hear our prayer’. There are usually about five or six shout-outs.
I walk up, my legs are shaking, my pits are starting to sweat through my light blue uniform shirt, face is beet red, but all I have to do is read five little intentions. I freeze. The priest is staring at me, my friends all look frozen in horror, the Church Ladies seem pissed, and my teacher looks full of regret.
Somehow, I made it through. I stuttered and murmured into that mic for the longest two minutes of my life. I don’t remember anything except annihilating some poor Polish family’s name as I tried to offer a prayer for their dead father. I walked back to my seat with my head down.
Most of the people who witnessed this train wreck tried to offer condolences. “It wasn’t that bad”, “you did fine”, even Maria said it was okay. I started to feel a little better. When mass was over and we were getting ready to leave, an old church lady came up to me. I was kind of afraid of what she was going to say as she pointed at me with a crooked finger. But she ended up giving me the most helpful little piece of honesty and advice.
Church Lady: That was horrible, but the good news is that no one in here will remember it, so don’t let it get you down.
Never underestimate the wisdom of a Church Lady!
That advice helped me a bunch. I still get really nervous before I have to talk in front of crowds, or climb a scary route (especially when strangers are watching), I get nervous before every class I teach, and every presentation I give, I get nervous before every podcast I have to host. Through the years I’ve learned that preparation and the fact that no one is going to remember, go a long way in quelling the fears of the anxious.
Thanks to that old Church Lady, I’m probably a better teacher, a better speaker, and a better climber than I otherwise would be!
So, to the old ladies in the back and to the anxious on the stage…
Lord hear our prayer!