Last week I had a dream about a baptism, but I suspect it was really a dream about creative work, performance, and the self-absorption that is a hindrance to both.

In this dream, my friends Ned and Leslie Bustard asked me to stand up with them for the baptism of their baby. Ned and Leslie don’t have a baby or even a grandbaby, except in the world of my dreams. Leslie does have a book coming out today, as you can hear in this week’s episode of The Habit Podcast…I guess you could say that’s her baby? But that may be too much Freud too soon.

Anyway, I agreed to stand up with the Bustards for their baby’s baptism, and they said great. Also, Leslie said, she had recruited her niece to operate the forty-ribbon apparatus for the processional, but would I be willing to operate the forty-ribbon apparatus for the recessional?

I was thinking,

  1. Since when does a baptism even have a recessional? and
  2. What’s a forty-ribbon apparatus?

But, I figured, if a kid can operate a forty-ribbon apparatus, how hard can it be?

When the procession started I kept an eye out for the kid with the forty-ribbon apparatus to see how the thing worked. It turned out this little girl was an absolute pro at it. When she spun the apparatus, it was just gorgeous. Its forty ribbons flew all over the place, creating mesmerizing 3-d shapes that morphed into other 3-D shapes and changed colors. It was like a laser light-show, but with ribbons.

I realized that I was going to look like an idiot recessing back down the aisle trying to operate the forty-ribbon apparatus, and I was probably going to ruin the whole baptism and become a laughingstock. Why, o why didn’t I just admit that I knew nothing about forty-ribbon apparati when the Bustards asked?

We got to the front of the church and took our places; I was standing as far away from the baby as possible, and I was sweating bullets thinking about that forty-ribbon apparatus. Then it occurred to me that my pants were about four inches too short, and I prayed that everybody in this very full church was looking at the baby and not me—surely they’re looking at the baby, right? And not at my floodwaters?

So we got the baby baptized, and the music started for the recessional, and the forty-ribbon apparatus was behind the baptism font where Leslie’s little niece had left it. I got a brilliant idea: I would just start down the aisle like everybody else and pretend that I had forgotten the forty-ribbon apparatus. I got down the steps and had made a few strides down the aisle when Leslie turned around and whispered, “Psst! You forgot the forty-ribbon apparatus.”

Now I really looked like a chump, going BACK up to the platform in my floodwater pants, sure this time that everybody was looking at me, because there was nobody else to look at, and I got the forty-ribbon apparatus and trotted awkwardly back to catch up to the recessional, crouching down a little as if that would make me less conspicuous.

I couldn’t get the forty-ribbon apparatus to do anything at all. It was absolutely mortifying. I spun it, and the ribbons just hung there limply. All the way down this long, long aisle I was spinning the forty-ribbon apparatus and shaking it and waving it around, and it wasn’t doing anything. The people in the pews politely looked away, pretending not to notice what a mess I was making of the Bustard baptism, but how could they not notice?

Finally, as I approached the last row and my mortification started to ebb, the forty-ribbon apparatus sprang to glorious life. It blossomed into shapes, colors, movement, and light. It looked now like a hydrangea bush, now like a Christmas tree, now like a city skyline, now like a pink dogwood. Nobody much saw it. But I saw it. I wish you could have seen it too.

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