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Waiting for Bible Quiz Nationals was like standing in a place outside of time. The normal rules of minutes and days dissolved in daydreams, and living out the weird waiting game felt like being in a memory.
The week or so before Nationals, my family took a vacation to Disney World. I’d never been before, but the bounded land of dreams-do-come-true became more a sanctuary of surrealism than an adrenaline-inducing fun-and-fancy-freedom. Dominating thunderstorms and sudden downpours came with daily regularity, and the brightly-colored rides and neon letters stood in dreamlike contrast to the disturbed gray skies. I got lost in the booming clouds, the rain that clung to the air, and the steam that rose from the ground with the scent of dirt and cement.
The tempests of grumbling energy always drifted away in the early evening, leaving the air quietly charged with the power to excite my reckless hopes. Hanging over the balcony of our hotel room somewhere between biting cold conditioning and muggy outdoor air, I fantasized about the Nationals competition, the buzzer, the inaudible lean of bodies and eyes on quiz master lips. I could taste quick words on my tongue and hear the tacit applause from my team at a, “That is correct for twenty points.” I felt wrapped in a blanket of warm safety, and though I knew it was improper for a good Christian quizzer to fantasize about, I reveled in the thought of winning, of the glory, of the trophy. Of the admiration.
For some reason there in Florida, however, the thought of Nationals seemed otherworldly. Practicing the material and quoting the verses felt detached from the actual goal of winning, and it was hard to humble my wild ego. I knew I should have focused more, practiced harder, spent more time on the material. J.P. would be sweating blood over the book and praying his memory into sharper shape.
Certainly, the tug of obligation from far away Washington – the pressure to perform, the need to impress –still rose acidly within my gut at moments. And certainly, I still studied; in the afternoons with a yellow pad of paper, I still scribbled reminders, wrote lists from the concordance, memorized acronyms, and soaked my brain in highlighted patterns of green, orange, yellow, blue, and the occasional stain of red.
But Nationals was lost in the booming thunderstorms, and it was hard to believe, with warm rain on my scalp, that the year wasn’t over yet.
Homework was over.
Track was over.
Band was over.
High school was over.
College was coming.
I’d tied up a lot of loose ends; if unsatisfactorily woven, they were, at least, knotted tightly. But this huge, demanding competition still loomed ahead–real and unreal like thunder in dark clouds – and it wasn’t until I landed back in Washington that the true panic of Nationals came tearing back into my reality. My confession is this: I didn’t practice enough in Florida.