20 December 2022 |
Another busy week, and this time Aunty is baking cookies to share with friends. So I thought I’d let Kris Widmer, an Adventist chaplain from Oroville, California, share some cheer with you.
As you read this story, remember the context: that right now, during what is supposed to be a happy time of year, facilities like the one Kris works in are in lockdown mode. Family and friends often can’t enter, and employees are being run ragged trying to be everything to everyone under their care. Thank God that Mae was there to help Kris out!
In the last parish where I was a pastor, the annual Christmas Sabbath worship service featured a variety of songs from a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural congregation. We had children and families involved, and some people sang or played only that one time all year. Children learning piano played solos. Instruments and vocals from Pakistan were featured, then a family from Africa sang in their native language. Each offering was met with vocal and percussive appreciations. It was glorious.
The program always closed with two songs. The last song was a congregational song, led by the praise band singing the recent Casting Crowns version of “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” That was always moving, with us all singing, as we all longed for “Peace on Earth.” The last solo was always sung by Chalena, the daughter of the praise band leader. She sang to a track, and usually with her eyes closed. “O Holy Night.” It was a “wow” moment, her powerful voice belting out the choruses and hitting the super high notes. What a moment of worship, as we all contemplated the birth of Jesus! I got to hear her do this for the eight Decembers that I was her pastor.
This year, I heard another singer sing it.
I met Mae (not her real name) because she had requested a Bible. When I brought it to her she wanted me to read it to her. “Matthew 5…from The Sermon,” she said. So even though it was five minutes before I was supposed to clock out (on a Friday), I grudgingly read to her—just the Beatitudes. “I’ve got to go,” I excused myself. “But I’ll come again next week.” “When?” she responded. “Monday,” I said. “When?” she repeated. “Maybe around ten,” I said.
Mae’s last question for me was “Do you know where I can hear “The Messiah” (by Georg Friederich Handel) this year? I used to sing that with my church choir. There were 33 of us.” I didn’t.
Mae is in a care facility, and I didn’t think there was any upcoming presentation of that oratorio scheduled for the Oroville Symphony (which doesn’t exist).
I made a mental and a paper note to see if I could locate a recording of it and have it played for her. I even went to a local record store, but it was not among the 15 classical CDs they had.
The next Monday, after a busy morning in another part of the hospital campus, there was a lengthy knock on my office door. (My office is in a renovated shower room, now with flooring and walls appropriate for an office. The hole for the toilet drain has been capped. There are no windows, and a thick solid door.)
It was Mae, in her wheelchair. Through her toothless gums and wrinkled lips she said “Hey. I thought you were coming at ten?” I explained to her why I hadn’t visited in the morning, and said I’d see her in a little bit. “Okay, I’ll be in my room.”
When I arrived a little later I let her know that I had asked the activities department to play Handel’s Messiah for her. She negotiated the time of this activity. “I want it near Christmas day,” she said. “I’ll let them know,” I replied. I also read Matthew 6 to her—more from “The Sermon.” She asked about the meaning of “do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,” and I explained it the best I could.
Fast-forward to Wednesday. I had committed myself to the Activities Director to caroling (all by myself—guitar in hand) in the facility.
I must tell you there is precious little holiday cheer that can happen here. We are still on Covid-19 lockdown, and there are no outside people allowed to do activities. For months, the activities staff has been doing one-on-one visits in the rooms or at the doors—with goggles, N95 masks and yellow barrier robes. We ask the residents to stay in their rooms, and 97% of them comply.
So, God willing, for the three Wednesdays preceding Christmas I am a one-man sunshine band, caroling my heart out.
Anyway, it’s Wednesday and I am singing down the hall. Mae comes up behind me. “I like your singing,” she said. I struck up another carol. (I know the first and last verses to about 7 of them, thanks to door-to-door caroling in my younger years.) Mae sang along from her wheelchair.
I came to the end of the hall, and stopped for a break. “I have to go to the other side of the building now,” I told Mae.
“Do you know ‘O Holy Night’?” Mae asked. “I know it, but not by heart and I don’t know the chords for it on the guitar.” I said. Undeterred, Mae started singing. Through toothless gums and dry lips, Mae sang. The first verse and one chorus. She led me down the hall, singing. I guess I’m not the sole caroler after all! Some of the staff took notice of her solo too, looking up and smiling as they prepared meds or did their charting.
Mae didn’t quite make it to the high note at the end. But I have to say it was one of the most beautiful and most memorable renditions of that song I have ever heard.
Merry Christmas, Mae. Thank you for reminding me of that holy night.
And thank you, Kris, for being there for Mae. Or, that Mae was there for you! And to both of you for reminding us what made that night holy.
You can write to Aunt Sevvy at DearAuntSevvy@gmail.com. Please keep questions or comments short. What you send us at this address won’t necessarily be, but could be, published — always without identification of the writer. Aunt Sevvy writes her own column, and her opinions are not necessarily those of Adventist Today’s editors.