My grandmother turned 90 a couple of weeks ago. That fact alone is pretty amazing, considering that last summer, she was very ill and we weren’t sure she was going to make it. But she recovered with the help of the family (my mother most of all), and she’s just as feisty as ever now. But you didn’t come here to read about my grandma, no matter how awesome she is.

Yes, even more awesome than this

My family decided to have a celebration for Grandma to commemorate her incredible milestone. Now, I need to point out a couple of things: (1) my family is huge. Ginormous. “Wearing name tags at reunions” big. (2) My family never does anything halfway or on a small scale. This event wasn’t planned as a small get-together at someones’s house, with people bringing covered dishes and desserts. Oh but no – that’s like Charlie Sheen only thinking about having ONE drink. No, this event would be on the scale of a Rotary Club event or a Boy Scout Jamboree or Sarah Palin book signing in areas without the Internet. This party was to be huge, and everyone – EVERYONE – was expected to be there. I couldn’t say no.

But there were a few moments when I regretted not thinking it over more.

This event was planned to the hilt – there were performances, speeches, pre-arranged actions and movements…everything you’d expect from a formal gathering. There was even a printed program with my grandma’s picture on the front. It wasn’t hosted in someone’s converted garage…no, for this shindig, we had an entire church, including the kitchen and fellowship hall. This thing was major.

As with any major event, there were jobs for everyone. It wasn’t enough for me to simply attend – I was a part of the entertainment too. I was to help escort Grandma to her seat, and give a speech on behalf of the children, grandchildren, and great-grands. No sweat – talking is something I can do effortlessly, like failing a math quiz. My sister was slated to sing, my young cousin gave a speech, and so on. Just about everybody had a job to do. Bearing in mind that my family is very devout in its Christianity, most of the event was centered around religion and its role in my grandmother’s life, and on the family. I’m not a churchgoer, but I was growing up, so I’m accustomed to the pomp and circumstance that goes along with the religutainment (ree-LIDGE-oo-TAYNE-munt) that surrounds our usual festivities. However, sometimes Life throws you curveballs, and it’s up to you to stop laughing long enough to hit ’em.

When I looked at the event program, I noticed that one of the scheduled events was something called “praise dancing”, to be performed by a person I didn’t know. And as we proceeded through all of the speakers and well-wishers, I got more curious about that one line in the program because I genuinely didn’t know what that could possibly mean. My great-aunt (Grandma’s sister) introduced the young lady who would be performing this routine, lauding her ability to evoke the Holy Spirit and to personify the Word of God through her dance. I was intrigued. Allow me to set the scene for you, if you will.

  • Imagine a young woman, around 25-26, wearing a choir robe and white gloves (but with no accompanying choir).
  • Watch her as she walks alone to the front of the church, carrying a CD that she inserts into a little boombox that had already been pre-set for her.
  • Imagine her standing in front of my grandmother, eyes closed, listening to the song on the CD as it progresses through the introductory chords and notes.
  • Note in your mind that she is not holding a microphone.
  • Note Damian noticing that she is not holding a microphone, and the confusion on his face as he wonders if she’ll melt his face off by singing at a decibel level that would liquefy granite.
  • Hear the music moving into the first verse.
  • Observe the fact that the young is not singing, as you might have assumed.
  • Pay attention to her as she begins…miming the song.

(I’ll repeat that, because I bet it flew right by you. She starting miming. As in, doing mime-like activities. In conjunction to and in phase with the lyrics of the song. Yes.)

Like this, but with 64% more church

Not knowing what to expect with respect to praise dancing still did not prepare my mind for this. She began acting out the song’s lyrics and message, in a highly animated fashion. Oh, and she was lip synching the song too. Not singing it aloud – mouthing the words to the song as she pantomimed them to the audience. If the song said “Reach your arms to Heaven”, she reared back and stretched her arms to the ceiling. If it said “He saved me from sin”, she would wrap her arms around herself, then point to her own chest, then sweep her hands toward the ground to represent sin. And if the song said “He died on the cross”, she…yeah, she did. She stretched out her arms, hands dangling, with her head lolling off to one side. I think her tongue might’ve been sticking out too, I was flummoxed. And honestly, I wanted to laugh. Really, really bad. But I was  sitting on the front row, right in front of her and right next to my grandmother and mother, so I couldn’t just bust a gut without ramifications.

As this young lady continued her performance by running down the aisle at Mach 2, I took the opportunity to scan the crowd to gauge other people’s reactions to this. I mean, maybe I’m the crazy one – it’s utterly possible. As I scanned faces, I saw a mixture of reactions – some were crying, some looked bemused, some were scowling, some were smiling and thoroughly enjoying it. Evidently this form of expression is not only known, it’s condoned and liked by many people. I made eye contact with one of my cousins while watching the Praise Mime, and our nonverbal, 10-second ocular conversation went something like this.

Me: “Are you seeing this? Have I gone mad?”
Her: “Yeah, I see it.”
Me: “Is this the way this should be, or is she having some sort of fit?”
Her: “I think this is the correctly planned arrangement of activities.”
Me: “I wonder what time my flight is in the morning.”

This performance went on for nearly 8 minutes, with the lady even pantomiming the vocal flourishes that good gospel singers do while singing. And I sat there, stone-faced, thinking of the economy or orange chicken or ANYTHING that would stop me from busting out laughing. Later that night, I gently asked my mom what she thought of it. She indicated that it was entertaining. I held my tongue. I may be going to Hell for laughing in my head, but I didn’t want to go with my mom’s handprint upside my head. I’m stupid but not crazy.