This afternoon I joined up with six other people from church to go out caroling. We visited church members who were shut in, bringing them gift baskets, and also walked around the halls of a nursing home singing to whoever would listen.
I always enjoyed singing Christmas carols, but haven’t been able to do it much lately, so I thought it would be neat. We traveled from place to place in the church’s van, which was the sort of run-down 1960s contraption that your hippie uncle drove — peeling vinyl, spare tire protruding from under the seat, a padded ceiling that kept me from getting brained every time we went over a rut. But it was also cool to visit some of the people that I’d been praying for all these weeks when the assistant pastor read their names out, but I’d never really known anything about. They were all elderly, and most were old-time Lutherans, first- or second-generation immigrants from northern Europe. The present church is actually fairly diverse, and includes blacks, Latinos and Asians, but I expect 40 years ago it was quite different.
One woman I remember in particular we visited in a hospital. I don’t know what exactly was wrong with her, but she said something about a recurring problem in her leg, and she was bedridden. She was very frail, but I could see her lips move as she sang the carols along with us. After we finished singing she chatted with us a little bit, and our group leader pointed to the wall behind us and said, “Look what she wakes up to every morning.”
I noticed for the first time a painting of Jesus hanging there, exactly on eye level from where she was lying in bed.
“Yes,” said the woman. “I pray with him every night.”
There was something about the way she said that that was almost eerie — with a sense that he was there as much as I was there, and not floating above somewhere. I’d felt a little shiver up my spine when we walked into her room, when I saw her and her rooommate lying in bed — that fear of disease, helplessness, and death hung in the air. Yet she was quite clearly convinced he was there.
Others we visited in their homes, and they were all very happy to see us. Some pressed us to stay, one gave us candy, another money (which our group leader quickly confiscated to give to the church). It was a great experience; the only thing wrong, apart from the van, was that we sounded awful. Although there were a few choir regulars there, and I can sing passably, there were a few people who really couldn’t sing at all, and did so loudly. The leader of the group was not a music person; she was actually the head of youth and family activities, but she’s one of those people who, by some force of gravitation, seems to end up in charge of everything. She sings pretty well but she seemed unclear on certain choral concepts, most notably giving a starting pitch. She’d just count down and expect everybody to somehow start in the same key. At first I nagged her to give us one, and she did, but I got tired of pestering her so I just let it slide. I’m still surprised that I was the only person who seemed to have a problem with that! I think next time, I’ll bring along my own pitch pipe and take care of it myself.
But I guess sounding great isn’t the main point of this kind of thing. It was really more about socializing than performing. And I think we made some people happy.