It's that time of the church year... The time when we pull out that old standard song "Were You There?" In fact, with all of the Good Friday services I've been to, we've already sung it twice. In one day.
Now don't get me wrong, I can appreciate it. It's an old spiritual, it's got some meaning and history to it. We can sing it, that's fine with me.
But you have to understand, I have some history with it, too.
We all have those moments. Those times in our lives that are just burned in our memory. It seems that no matter how much time passes, they will always stand out to us like they recently happened. Well, one of my moments involves this song.
You have to understand, that growing up I was never much of a singer. It wasn't until my senior year of high school that anyone ever told me I had a good voice. And it wasn't until college that I felt comfortable enough to sing by myself in front of people. Growing up, my mom always said I had a voice like her's, and we couldn't carry a tune in a bucket. I argue that it's because the most experience I had with singing was at church, singing the hymns in the pew next to her and trying to match pitch!
Anyway, in 5th grade during this time of year our children's choir director decided we were going to sing "Were You There." Only not as an entire choir, but as soloists. And she needed people to volunteer to sing the solos. Now, I'm not sure how I ended up with one. I don't know if I volunteered or if she chose me because no one else wanted to. It doesn't matter. What matters is that I was assigned the third verse.
So it came time to sing it in front of the congregation. Now, being a boy and being tall, that always meant I was in the back of the choir. But when it came time for me to sing my solo, the director wanted me to come to the front. So I did, and I started to sing.
"Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?" I started singing, and it was going ok.
"Were you there when they laid him in the tomb?" It was going well. I was gaining confidence and getting stronger.
"Ooooh, oooh, oooh ooooh. Sometimes it causes me to tremble... tremble... tremble..." I was really on a roll now.
"Were you there when they crucified m-" And that's when it hit me I was singing the end to the first verse and not the third verse. I had messed up. And, rather than finishing it out like that's what I was supposed to do, I stopped. And then I started to cry. And then I had to force my way back to the back of the choir and stand there and blubber until we were allowed to go sit back down.
People came up to me afterwards sharing all sorts of stories of how they messed up in various things they did. There were stories about pants unknowingly being unzipped, or people passing out during choir concerts. There was no shortage of stories. But the fact remained that I had messed up. And not only had I messed up but I had cried. In front of the church and my classmates and my friends.
So, to this day, when we sing that song I immediately go back to that church. I can see the sanctuary, the pews made out of blonde wood, the red carpet, my choir director's face. It's all there like it happened only days or months ago and not years upon years. And when it gets to the third verse and we start singing, the closer and closer it gets to that last part, I can still feel a little lump in my stomach that doesn't go away until I sing the right words to finish the verse.
And that's the story of my relationship with this song. It's not that it's a bad song, although it never has been one of my favorites. It's just that when it comes up, so does one of the many moments in my life that remind me I'm not perfect!