It is a quarter to two on Sunday, the third of July. My family and I are sweating on a pew, enduring the final stretch of a three hour block of church. It is Fast Sunday, which, in Mormon parlance, means my husband and I have (somewhat begrudgingly) skipped breakfast and lunch in an attempt to garner some spiritual strength. My children are blissfully immune to this sacrifice, and are snacking on crackers and sipping Strawberry milk. In celebration of his 5th birthday, my son has received a rather elaborate candy lei from his Primary leaders, a cellophane tube of Skittles and Starburst and Crunch bars. My kids have already devoured most of the candy, but my husband spies a lone purple Skittle resting on the bench beside him, and, somewhat tenderly, holds it between his thumb and forefinger and gives it a lingering look.
I look at the clock. Fifteen minutes left until Testimony meeting is over. Testimony meeting is kind of like open mike night at a comedy club, only here, when people get up and talk about Jesus, they aren't joking. So far, the meeting has been the usual mix of travelogues and health reports and sincere witnesses of faith. None of the congregants have approached the pulpit for a few minutes, and a familiar uneasiness fills the chapel. Finally, a man seated near the back makes the long walk up the aisle toward the podium. I notice he is holding a hymn book in one hand. My husband notices too, and he looks at me and raises an eyebrow.
The man takes his place behind the pulpit and begins to address the congregation. His favorite part of the Fourth of July service is the songs, he says. Only, today, we unfortunately aren't singing his favorite one. He begins to fumble through the pages of the hymn book. I start to feel uncomfortable. He is going to sing. I have been in Testimony meetings where people sing before, and they have all been disastrous. There was the woman who concluded a rather rambling testimony with all 7 verses of A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief. And the dramatic girl who choose the meeting as an opportunity to showcase an even more dramatic singing voice. The man settles on a page and rests the hymnal on the podium. He is going to sing. This will not end well.
"Oh say can you see," he begins. Thankfully, his voice is strong and on key. But still, he is singing the national anthem, acepella. He is singing the national anthem, that notoriously difficult song, that song that even seasoned performers somehow manage to mangle. Performers like Christina Aguilera. He continues to sing, and then, as he reaches "and the rockets red glare," his voice breaks with emotion. He is struggling to continue. For a brief moment, the singing stops, and the chapel is still. Then, miraculously, one of the congregants stands. A woman places a hand on her heart. The man at the pulpit is still plodding his way through the song, but then, a man in the audience starts to sing with him. And then, there is this wonderful rush of movement and voices, until all the congregants are standing and singing. My two year old daughter jumps up on the bench and bounces, tugging at my sleeve and exclaiming, "I'm standing, Mom, I'm standing."
I'm standing, too, and, if it weren't for the tears, I'd be singing as well.