“An Unexpected Gift” by J.F. Ewert

Photo by Gareth Harper on Unsplash

I knew I shouldn’t be laughing, but I just couldn’t stop.

It started when King Herod leaped from his chair and launched into a fit of rage. He’d just learned that the Magi had snuck away, and he was furious. Arms flailing, he paced across the stage, roaring at no one in particular.

Of course, it wasn’t actually King Herod. It was my big buddy Jared. A high schooler who was cool enough to play with me when his family came over for dinner. And therein lay the problem.

Before this performance, we had rehearsed our scene multiple times and had nary a hiccup. I was thrilled to be one of Herod’s four guards, because it was a stagefront role. My character didn’t have any speaking lines, but it was way better than being one of the generic village people. Especially since I got to wear a grey plastic breastplate, along with a matching plastic shield on my left arm and a plastic sword shoved through my belt.

What undid me this night was Jared’s make-up. We’d all been marked up before the show. Most of us sported inky beards that were supposed to age our elementary school faces. But Jared’s stylist had gone all out, exquisitely framing his eyes with thick strokes of dark eyeliner. He looked like a caricature of Aladdin’s Jafar. Thus, when I glanced over at the beginning of his speech, I immediately erupted into giggles. His voice said that he was angry, but his face told a different story.

At first, I hoped that nobody would notice. Surely the audience had their eyes trained on Herod? But as my giggles continued, the guard in front turned around to admonish me. “Stop it!” he hissed, eyes ablaze with righteous anger. “It’s not funny!”

He was right. But I was powerless and continued to laugh. Continued until Herod wheeled around and sent us guards off to slaughter the innocents. As I pounded across the stage, the lights were cut, leaving the audience to imagine the massacre. We actors howled and yowled, and I vigorously stabbed the carpet with my sword. At some point, while darting hither and thither in the dark, I collided with the manger. Only then was the smirk wiped off my face.

I never discussed this epic fail with anyone. (Or, if I did, the trauma has wiped that discussion from my memory.) Unsurprisingly, I had no desire to relive that shame or have others confirm just how terrible I had been. But something else happened that evening that overshadowed my catastrophic performance.

Simply put: I discovered my voice.

Weeks earlier, I had stayed late after choir one afternoon so I could audition for a solo. It fit my M.O. of getting in front of people as much as possible, and I was fortunate enough to land three lines in a song called “Good News Travels Fast, You Know.” It was a finger-snapping tune that described the shepherds’ response to the child Christ. Once they found him in the stable, they excitedly hustled and bustled about town to tell about the amazing sights they’d seen.

My part came at the end of the second verse:

We’re hearin’ stories ‘bout a gift from heaven
We don’t know what they’re on about
But we all intend to find out!

Unlike my dramatic performance – which occurred later that evening – I nailed my solo. My prepubescent voice rang out through the sanctuary, clearly articulating every word and perfectly punctuating its peppy rhythm.

Since this was my very first performance, I didn’t know to be nervous. I waited patiently for my turn to sing, positioned myself properly in front of the mic when that turn came, and then promptly retreated to the backstage wings. In that moment I wasn’t wondering what anyone else had thought about my singing. I simply knew that it was to my liking, and I was pleased.

That all changed during the car ride home.

We were well on our way when my mom turned around in her front seat. “You can sing!” she said. I wasn’t quite sure what to reply. Yes, I could sing. And I’d enjoyed being one of the many soloists. Yet, my mother’s tone implied a deeper meaning behind her words.

My parents had known about my solo ahead of time, but they didn’t understand what it meant until they heard me. Sitting in the audience, they turned to each other after I had finished, marveling. “Was that our son?”

In the car ride home, they returned to this amazement. They liked music well enough, but they weren’t strong singers. Nor could they think of anyone else they were closely related to that had a good singing voice. But, somehow, I’d been given a gift, and for the first time, we were all aware of it.

And so, on the night that I sacrilegiously ruined Herod’s speech and made a mockery of his diabolical deeds, I received perhaps the greatest Christmas gift I’ve ever been given. I learned that I could be good at something and give others delight by practicing that goodness. Indeed, I discovered that performing was itself a gift. I just needed to figure out what parts I could play and which parts were better left to others.

J.F. Ewert

J.F. Ewert

J. F. Ewert is a creative writer and consultant. He was born and raised in the rainy Fraser Valley of beautiful British Columbia. Now he and his family live in middle Tennessee.

Currently, he is writing a book about faith, fear, and anxiety. When he’s not writing, he loves coaching youth baseball, playing adult rec hockey, and taking his family to concerts. Fol

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