1977 was a good year for me. Star Wars opened at big screens across the nation. I learned to read. I no longer had to take naps. Miss Jenkins was my first grade teacher (if you saw her through the eyes of a six year old boy, you’d understand). I won the Charlotte, NC, Royal Ambassadors “Pinewood Derby.”
For those of you who don’t know, the “Pinewood Derby” was an event in which its participants race small (about six inches long) cars built from blocks of wood. These cars were placed on inclined tracks and, powered only by gravity (and aided by some well placed weights) raced in head to head heats until only one remained undefeated. My car was the one. Cool huh?
But that’s not the moment I want to tell you about. This moment occurred several weeks later when I, a shy six year old boy, was asked to get up in front of my church and talk about winning the derby…
OK. I can do this. It’s Sunday night, so there aren’t that many people here. Wait, here come a few more. Why don’t they lock the doors at 6 o’clock? These people should at least have the decency to be on time. Oh, more people! Maybe I shouldn’t look around.
OK, deep breath. Time to sing. “Bringing in the sheaves, bringing in the sheaves, we shall go rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.” I really don’t like that song. Maybe it’s because we sing it like the Darlings from Andy Griffith, only in the key of off. Mr. Worship Leader, I know you like singing verses 1,2 and 4, but you can throw 3 in, too, if you like. No? Oh well.
Maybe Pastor Stone’s sermon will run long tonight and he’ll forget about me. I am supposed to go on last, after all. Besides, it’s been a long day. Everybody’s tired and just wants to get home in time for “In Search Of.” That Leonard Nimoy sure is talented, but how’d they get his ears back to normal? Acts. OK, I can find Acts. New Testament. I just learned these. Let’s see…Genesis, Exodus. Wait, wrong half. Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, ACTS. There it is. Oh, 6:40. Getting close. I can do this, I can do this, I can do this.
Now to Matthew? Shouldn’t we have hit that one first?
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!”
Thou, thy, thee, ye, killest, stonest, gathereth? Who talks like that? Hey, I’m in church, maybe I should throw in some of those thees and thous when I give my speech. Yeah, that’s the ticket. This is going to be great! I’m going to tell everybody about how my Dad and brother and I built this great car. Or builteth this great car. I’ll regale them with tales of how I vanquished all foes who dared to come against me on the field of battle. I’ll tell them how they (or thou) were (or werst…is that a word?) a great source of inspiration as I placed the car on the track for each race; about how with each race, I became surer and surer of victory; of how I accepted the trophy with the grace and humility that would bring honor to Calvary Baptist Church. THIS IS GOING TO BE AWESOME!
What’s that Mom? Oh, he called me up? OK, here goes. Why is everything moving slowly? Why are there trails behind every person? Why does Pastor Stone sound like a broken tape recorder? Why don’t my legs work? What happened to the stage? This morning there were only six steps up. Now there are, 1, 2, 3…5643! OK, last step…shake Pastor Stone’s hand. This is good. The lights in the auditorium are still down, just like when the Pastor preaches. WAIT, WAIT, WAIT, what are they doing? It’s getting brighter. I don’t need to see these people! Hey, who let them in here? They really need to lock the doors at 6. Since when did this church seat 50,000 people?
Deep breath. Another one. One more. Whew, I’m beginning to feel light headed. I can do this.
“When I won the pinewood derby…”
OK, what do I say next? I have to pee. What’s happening? I didn’t eat anything before I came, but something’s flying around in my stomach. Is it hot in here? I told you there were too many people in here. Why is everyone staring at me? Didn’t your mothers teach you that was impolite?
“It meant so much to me…”
Nada. Let’s see…by my calculations I’ve been up here about nine hours. Don’t these people have homes? A little help here, Pastor! I’m six, remember? Come on, Mark, tales of victory on the field of battle! Vanquish, victory, trophy, grace, humility, thee, thou, builteth. SAY SOMETHING!
“Excuse me, but I’ve got something I’ve got to do.”
And that’s how it ended. Well, almost. I then ran off the stage into the arms of my mother and cried until they had to re-hydrate me with an IV drip. The pastor commented that mine was the most polite exit he had ever seen. Was this an important event in my life? Sure. I’ve never been afraid to speak in public since.