Adam stepped up to the microphone, looked out at the crowd, and froze.
I've heard that the fear of public speaking is one of the most common phobias. I imagine that the situation is only made worse when the entire ward is looking at you, and you're only three years old.
Two weeks previously, we'd had our first Primary program practice in the chapel. (I say "we," because I'm currently serving as the Primary pianist.) Even with the chapel all but empty, Adam had still panicked at being confronted with all of that empty space. "Say: 'We made a poster about Jesus,'" Sister Thompson prompted. "I don't know how!" Adam wailed. "Just say 'We made a poster . . .'" "I can't do it!"
At our second practice, he did better, stepping up to the microphone to say his part, then standing to one side to help hold up the poster as the other kids said their lines.
However, on the day of the program itself, the weight of so much attention from even a very friendly crowd was too much, and he panicked again. He stood, fixed, unable to satisfy the Law of the Primary program (that each child has a part and all parts must be given), yet unwilling to move from the spot until the Law had been satisfied. It must have seemed like he stood there for minutes, enveloped in a paradox with no way out.
In reality, it was only a few seconds. 3-year-olds with stage fright are nothing new in Primary, and there's a standard set of protocols to follow in such situations. With a quick nod, Sister Thompson activated plan Delta-Delta-3 (substitution of senior Primary member for psychologically unfit Sunbeam) and Ethan, a confident 11-year-old, stepped up to the mic next to Adam.
"We made a poster about Jesus."
The Law fulfilled, Adam and Ethan solemnly stepped to the side to hold up the poster while the Primary program continued.
The program wasn't perfect. The girls were too soft, the a capella group was woefully out of tune, and an especially tricky song had to be cut at the last minute. The thing about Primary programs, though, is that no matter what goes wrong, they're always good enough. The parents are always proud, and the older members of the ward always have tears in their eyes, and the bishop always concludes the program by telling the kids that they did a really good job.
It's not that they're lying or going too easy on everyone, it's that there's an understanding that we're all learning and growing, and doing your best is what matters, even though everyone's best will look somewhat different.
From that perspective, it was a huge success. Ricky, a developmentally delayed boy, walked up to the microphone with help and said three words of his part almost clearly enough to be understood. (Also, he didn't eat his nametag this week.) Tanya, age 5, waved at her mom for most of the program, but sang all of the songs and even remembered most of the words. McKenzie, a somewhat . . . high strung preschooler, threw a crying fit when she didn't get to say two parts and had to be bodily lifted off the stand and carried out of the chapel by her father. However, she eventually calmed down enough to come back inside and sing the last song with everyone else.
I wonder if maybe our idea of the Final Judgment isn't all wrong. Maybe it's not like having your life reviewed by a panel of severe Olympic judges, pencils poised to deduct half-points for the slightest error. Maybe it's like a Primary program in front of your family and neighbors and all your teachers who love you and who are so proud of you and who will come up to cry and hug you at the end, even if you think you screwed up. And if you get scared and can't do your part, there's someone waiting to step in and take the burden from you. And at the end, someone gets up and tells everyone that they did a good job, and he's proud of them.