That’s right Harry Potter fans, I’m a Slytherin. The Hogwarts house of Voldemort, Lestrange and the Malfoys. A place of evil. But it’s not so simple. Slytherins are complex. After all, we’re also the house of Severus Snape and Merlin.
Like most people, Slytherins are a complicated bunch of conflicting impulses, both good and bad. Sometimes these impulses wage war on each other at the expense of the person they inhabit. Case in point, last week in church. (Surprised to hear that a Slytherin was in church? Don’t be. Voldemort’s following was essentially a religious cult).
Anyway, back to the story. Read any of the Hogwarts house profiles online, and you’ll find that Slytherins have a strong self-preservation streak and can also be very loyal to those in their group. These are the two traits that caused my conflict.
Slytherins can be masters of social connection, not for the feel good vibes of brotherhood, but for how they can benefit from each relationship. As a musician, this trait helps me to grow my professional network with all sorts of different people, always looking to benefit from their ability to give me gigs, and to use them to play mine. Self- preservation.
So months ago, when a musician friend asked me to play trumpet at his church on Veterans Day, I said yes. At that point the gig was months away, and with Covid tightening its grip, I did not expect it to happen. I fully believed it would cancel like nearly all indoor gigs had since the pandemic hit.
I didn’t want to play if it was indoors, but I accepted the gig. I wanted to reinforce good relations with my friend, but did not intend to put myself at risk to do it. Self-preservation. We also had several months before the gig to wait and see if the virus situation would get better by that time. So I put the gig in my book and forgot about it for many weeks.
As the date approached, I was becoming more and more uncomfortable with having to do the gig. Virus counts we’re going way up. I knew my friend would be disappointed but I decided to call and tell him I couldn’t do it. Self-preservation over loyalty. Less than a week before the gig, on the very day I had planned to call him, the friend calls me instead. The conversation started like this:
“Hey, you know we’re supposed to have this gig at my church on Sunday?”, he asked.
“Here we go baby!” I thought. “Canceled at last.”
But I was wrong. He proceeded to tell me that he had contracted Covid and could not be there. “So,” he continued, “I’m wondering if you could lead the gig for me.”
With a heightened desire not to play, but also not wanting to stress him out when he’s already dealing with Covid, I told him I could do it. Loyalty.
He mentioned that the first service was held outside in the parking lot. I felt better.
Then he mentioned that the “crazies“ come out for the second service, which is indoors, and many do not wear masks. I felt worse. I had played at that church before and they didn’t seem like the mask wearing type, thus my initial reluctance to play from the start.
But still my friend had Covid and did not need to be burdened with the problem I was about to give him, so I told him “yes” I could lead the gig (loyalty), while in my mind, planning to leave the second service if it was unmasked and unsafe (self-preservation).
Fast forward a few days and my friend tells me he’s headed to the hospital and into the ICU because his breathing has become difficult. I’m still planning on straddling the fence between doing the job I said I would do (loyalty) and trying not to get Covid (self-preservation). I’m still planning to play the first, outdoor service, then leave during the second, indoor service if things look as bad as I suspect they might.
So Sunday comes. The three other musicians and I meet early, rehearsing the 15 minutes worth of music we are to play in the middle of each service, honoring and thanking the veterans of the congregation.
The outdoor service runs smoothly. The parishioners are excited and happy, honking their car horns in lieu of applause and “amens”.
I skip a group breakfast between services to avoid the danger of indoor eating with strangers during the pandemic. Self-preservation. Instead, I grab an apple and some walnuts from my car, and eat alone beside a warehouse about a block from the church.
My friend was worried about things going smoothly in his absence, so I text to let him know that we did well. He thanks me, then says “I just realized that the second service is live streamed online, so I’ll be able to watch you guys this time!”
The comment does not register in my mind the way it should have.
I wait until the last minute to go inside the church building to get ready for the second service. When I get in there, the narrow halls are filled with people heading out of Sunday school classes. Not one of them wears a mask.
What’s more, they scowl at me and my mask as I make my way back to the waiting room. Discouraged and disappointed but not surprised, I re-dedicate myself to my plan of leaving the service if the situation warrants, and it seems it will.
The second service begins with the musicians waiting in a backstage room, unable to see the congregation or the officiants. Twenty minutes later, it’s time for us to go out and perform our portion of the service. I’m both committed and apprehensive about my self-preservation plan. Either way, here we go.
As we take our places on stage, I look around. The room is narrow, with a low drop ceiling. The pews are roughly 3/4 full. By my rough count, about 80 people are in attendance, only one with a mask. I admit to myself that the situation is actually worse than I suspected it would be, and as the pastor begins speaking again, Slytherin self-preservation washes over me as I take one last look around the room before leaving.
As my eyes cross the back of the room, by the sound booth, I catch a glimpse of what looks like a small video camera. And that’s where my escape plan went wrong. Loyalty fought back.
I imagine my friend, who I promised to cover for, watching the service via live stream from his hospital bed in the ICU. And I imagine how he might feel seeing me abruptly leave in the middle of the job I told him I would do. Loyalty versus self-preservation. A Slytherin Battle Royale.
I suppose the stronger Slytherin instinct should have been to self-preserve and leave, but I didn’t. Instead, I tried to negotiate a deal where both sides win.
I move to the back of the stage and off to the side, near the stage door, and prop it open. I stay there for a minute or two, moving to the microphone only when the pastor announces our first selection. I slide my mask off to the side and play. After the song, I slide the mask back into place and head back to the propped open stage door, repeating this routine several times until our portion is over and we are dismissed. Our total stage time was about 20 minutes, approximately the same length of time scientists say can count as a covid exposure.
Out in the car with the service still going on inside, I wrestle with what kind of person I am. Slytherins are known to be cunning, playing all sides of a situation to their best advantage. And despite my desire to shield a suffering friend from more discomfort, I wonder if my attempt to play both sides will result in my getting sick, or worse yet, the spreading of Covid throughout my family. Does my loyalty lie stronger with friends, family or self? Did my actions reflect that? Why did I even play this game at all? Just turning down the gig would have been easier, more mature and more honest. Why didn’t I do that?
For the next week I quarantine myself in one room of my house, shielding my wife from my potential virus, and working through the self-anger, disappointment and confusion that boiled over because of my decision to stay at that church service. By the time this piece is published, 14 days will have passed from the incident and so far, I haven’t shown any Covid symptoms. Hopefully that will hold true and I’ll have gotten away with one.
I wonder how I’ll react the next time I’m in a situation like this, although I’ve vowed to avoid it. I also wonder what others would have done. No matter what Hogwarts house or personality type you belong to, Covid-19 is our real-life Voldemort, putting us in uncomfortable, unexpected and sometimes dangerous situations. The decisions we make in those moments are important. They reflect who we are and who we are not. They expose our weaknesses. Hopefully, in the end, they will fuel our growth and strength.
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