Thursday, December 18, 2014

The inestimable privilege of singing to Mrs. K.

Every year since 2001 my family has organized a Christmas caroling potluck at our house. Mostly attended by home schooling families (some quite large families), joined by Christian college students and various other friends, the caroling parties can get quite large. I believe our record is eighty, counting unborn children. I did not count this year so would only be guessing, but my guess would put the total this year somewhere around forty.

We eat first then go out into the neighborhood. This year we stopped at ten houses, most of whom were expecting us, but four of those families were not home, so we sang at only six. On a Saturday evening in December, many families are simply not at home. It's amazing how much energy it takes to sing at just six houses, but despite that, I would like to raise the number of houses we go to. I prefer to go where we have been previously announced and expected rather than knocking at random doors. Perhaps in future years I will put my caroling letter into the mailboxes of more neighbors. My voice was about shot by the end of this year's caroling, but then, my voice had been entirely gone just two days before the party, so I was grateful to be able to sing at all.

For all of those thirteen years and fourteen caroling parties we have sung to the elderly Mrs. K. She lives nearby in her own home, cared for by the frequent visits of her adult children, whose assiduous help has allowed her to continue to live on her own with her small dog. With each year she has grown more frail, and now she is, quite literally, bent double due to spinal problems. She is very much all there. She told me a story this last summer of going to the doctor and being asked what medications she was on. She said she listed all twenty-six from memory, with their doses.

This year she was careful to call me on the evening of the caroling party to remind me that we should come to the side door of the house to sing. Why this is easier for her is a mystery to me, since it requires her to come down a short flight of stairs to open the door, while the front door is level with the main floor. But I know there is a good logistical reason, whatever it may be, and I duly assured her that we would come to the side door, which is equipped with its own doorbell.

Having had several disappointments ringing bells where people were not home, our merry band was a little nervous when Mrs. K. took a while getting to the door. They wondered if this would be another house where no one answered. I wasn't worried; I knew she was home. When she appeared and slowly opened the door, looking down at the ground and unable to lift herself up, much like the woman in the Bible whom Jesus healed (Luke 13), everyone felt, I think, just as I did: Who are we that she should go to all this trouble to come to the door and listen to us sing?

We gave her our best. I can't remember which song we started out with. Perhaps it was "Hark the Herald." Then, as I always do with the people for whom we sing, I asked her if she had a favorite carol she would like us to sing. She said "O Holy Night."

It just so happens that I've never added "O Holy Night" to our repertoire. If I'd thought of it, I probably would have said it was too hard for us. But Eldest Daughter immediately struck up the tune (in an excellently accessible key, I might add), and off we went. Fortunately, we were all gathered rather close together by the side door. A first rule of caroling outside in front of houses is, "Thou shalt bunch close together so as to be able to hear one another." My beloved band tends to straggle, however often I ask them to come closer. I think they are afraid of making the goodman or good lady of the house feel crowded with a bunch of people around the front door. But this time, we could hear each other, and I was pleasantly surprised at how good we sounded.

When we tried it again, just for fun, at the house across the street, it was definitely a thinner sound. We had already given our all to Mrs. K., in honor of her gallantry and in honor of Our Lord.

It was a very great privilege. I hope we will have the privilege for many more years.


Tony M said...

Lydia, I meant to say this earlier, and will say it now: you GET it. I am not whistling (alone) in the dark. Being given all the tiny little pieces of the puzzle that fit together in such as way as to result in a Christmas tradition of music for family, for friends, for neighbors, for fellow members of the Church, or for total strangers, is a GIFT. Yes, it is a gift that _we_ have to put together, but that too is a gift from God, not our own. At the same time, we can rejoice in the music, rejoice in the good that the music celebrates, and rejoice in God's giving us lo these many gifts out of His graciousness. I hope you keep doing it for many years.

Lydia McGrew said...

Very well put, Tony. I feel the same way about my bi-monthly hymn sings. People say these things like, "It's nice of you to open your home." Well, there are all sorts of "selfish" advantages, of course--having friends, for example. Plus the hymn sings are low-key. I don't have to set a table just so or make hors d'oeuvres or anything gruesome like that. Nor even make conversation with just one or two guests whom I don't know well. Big groups are easier to entertain, in a way. We sing and people talk and the kids play with each other! What could be simpler?

But aside from that, as you say, is the enormous senese of privilege to be part of a tradition that is of mutual value to everyone involved as well as glorifying to God.