Grace Under Fire

 In Seriously?

The ritual hasn’t changed much over time. The participants are often clothed in robes, their faces somber. The ceremony has its ritualistic pattern; some still include the latin incantation, though others have abandoned this tradition. But they all remember the fire.

If it sounds like a scene from Jim Jones’ cult, it’s meant to. But I’m not talking about Jones, nor am I talking about some elitist induction into a Fraternity or Sorority. The scene might remind you of Shirley Jackson’s story “The Lottery,” but it is actually a scene many of us have participated in at some point in our lives.

Yeah, that’s right. I’m talking about the National Honor Society Induction.

Being a parent and a high school teacher, I’ve attended more NHS Inductions than most people, so I consider myself somewhat of an expert at the disasters that can accompany this ceremony.

To be honest, my own induction into this not so secret society is nebulous in my memory. I only remember that I did not trip. That was my biggest concern.

And whenever I watch an NHS Induction, I am still pre-occupied by that thought. I admit to saying silent Hail Marys as my own daughter’s name is called and I watch her approach the table of fire.

Because kids do trip. Frequently, in fact. After all, it’s critical to wear high heels at an event such as this and many are not skilled at the art of elevated walking. Most of the time it’s not an issue, but one kid almost took out the pseudo altar, so that was stressful.

Actually, the first real NHS debacle was the infamous NHS induction at which my eldest daughter was inducted. That was an ill-fated event, indeed. The misfortunes began when one of the officers bent to light the candle of Scholarship and her blonde locks got a little too close the flame. The tribe carried on, however, but the lights on the stage contributed to the scene being one large tanning bed and the inductees, arranged standing on bleachers, were sweating.

I saw the first one go down. She did it elegantly, just wilted like a flower in a pink dress. The inductees behind and around her were flooded with uncertainty. Truthfully, the ceremony has the seriousness of a Catholic mass and they seemed unsure as to whether or not they should interrupt it. So they propped her up like a scene from Weekend At Bernies. This continued for 3-5 long minutes until a Senior member saw the problem and raced across the stage to help.

This was completely off script and at first the members frowned at the disruption. Seconds later, however, the girl was slumping too much to ignore and the audience noticed. There were a few awkward moments where a doctor came forward, revived her and the audience released a collective sigh of relief.

Of course, the show must go on, so they pulled a chair on stage and propped the pallid child in it while the ceremony continued.

But the drama was not over. On her way back to her seat, the Good Samaritan who had rushed to aid the girl slipped and landed flat on her backside. Her dignity in shreds, she rose and took her seat. I’ve often wondered if that was some punishment from the Gods for disturbing the ritual.

The show must go on does seem to be the theme of these events. Since that fateful induction, things were tightened up considerably. First of all, the planners got rid of the bleachers and inductees were allowed to sit during the ceremony. Good choice.

Many schools have opted for battery operated candles instead of the real thing. Others still cling to this aspect of the ritual, but it has been fraught with peril over the years. The daughter of a friend of mine had a brief moment of clumsiness that nearly started a small fire at the front table. And it does seem that a brief reminder of the “Stop, Drop and Roll” rule should be reviewed before the big event. Over the years, I have seen four different ceremonies – at various schools- where a girl’s hairsprayed locks have been singed by the candles of Scholarships, Knowledge, Character and …whatever the last one is.

They even have a plastic jug of water on the stage for that eventuality. The other night, there was another tense moment involving hair and fire. There was only a fractional moment of indecision before a senior member came forward with the jug prepared to douse as needed….

The situation was quickly brought under control and the President of NHS calmly proceeded with the script. That’s what you call grace under fire.

And there isn’t even a candle for that character trait….

Seriously, perhaps there should be.

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