That has been my attitude towards pagan festivals for the last fifteen years, ever since I started to realise both how beautiful an experience they could be, and how badly things might go off the rails. Among all the incredible experiences I've had, I've also seen broken and dislocated body parts, miscarriage, terrifying weather, dangers from the outside, dangers from within, drug overdoses, domestic violence, communities tearing themselves apart, people overwhelmed by grief or loss or shame or fear, and all manner of collapses -- be they physical, emotional, or spiritual.
People consistently tell me that my worries over an upcoming festival are out of line with my happy calm during it, or out of proportion with the actual happenings at the event. I fully acknowledge both of these as true. It's because there is a factor I do not account for in my festival planning: people are incredible beings. I believe it's fully possible that when there is a crisis, people will step forward and shine in ways I have never considered. I have seen it too many times not to believe it. However, I refuse to rely on it for planning purposes.
When danger or trouble threatens, the practiced team assembles and begins to function as they have before. The leaders begin to direct, and experienced hands set to the work of stability. Those with an easy smile and a comforting demeanor step out among the frightened and begin to set minds at ease, and those with more force behind their eyes move to head off anyone seeking advantage or power in the chaos. The healers begin to tend hearts and bodies as the wounded are brought in. I cannot count the number of times I've seen a Chief or Lead start to say, "Could someone...oh, you're already doing it. Thank you." Hell, I can't even count the times I've said it myself.
But it never goes smooth, doesn't run to plan. Never once has any situation gone as expected, because something invariably happens to knock the plans off-kilter. A storm plus a medical emergency plus an equipment failure plus a personal conflict breaks down a set of backups that should have been a failsafe, and the plans have to change very fast when most resources are already committed. Into that moment, every time, comes an unexpected voice.
Maybe it's a voice that's never spoken up before, or one that's been long silent. Maybe it's one that had always spoken in a different context. Maybe it's one that had been overlooked. But whatever the reason it wasn't heard before, now it is. "I can do that." "I've got it." "I can handle it." "Leave that to me."
I never plan for that voice. You CAN'T plan for it, because you have no way to know whose it will be and what you'll need in that moment. Maybe a new mother has heat exhaustion and you need capable hands into which to place her child for an hour. Maybe a pavilion has collapsed and you need someone to assist vendors as they recover their merchandise. Maybe two key people have fallen out and won't speak, and a mediator has to be found so that they can both work on a problem.
You may also be learning something new about someone. A hobby that had never come up in conversation, a former profession that hadn't been mentioned. Whatever the case, whatever falls outside the plan, someone shines forth unexpectedly to handle it calmly. He or she fits into the structure seamlessly, and the plan shifts around the space to flow correctly again.
When I worry about a festival, I'm not worrying about my people and whether they'll stand to what they've committed to do. There's no question there. I'm not worrying that we have not prepared as well as we should, that we're not ready for the things that are reasonable or likely to happen. I am worrying over the unexpected, the unplanned crisis, the shifting moment in which all formulae must be recalculated with a new variable, and hoping very much that we will hear that unexpected voice.
It has never let me down, not once, but still I leave it outside my plans. Like grace, like beauty, like love, like the fae, I know that once I begin to assume or grasp at it, it will fade and shatter out of my life.