I woke this morning feeling slightly achy; I'm trying to find the "right" pillow and I'm failing, because one is too soft and flat while the other is so firm and full-bodied that it actually causes me to slide farther down on the bed's surface until my feet are smashed. To top it off, I stayed up too late—and then the boy was coughing off and on all night, so the mom in me kept waking up to a) make certain the cough never turned into "cough-before-puke" (other parents might also be familiar with such a cough) and b) to make certain that the cough eventually halted. At one point, when I went into his room with medicine, the half-awake child burst into tears and refused to swallow the stuff...
So. Not a restful night. I was just beginning to wander down the woe-is-me path when I remembered where I'd been last evening.
A hospital nearby. In the cancer section.
I have wanted, in past years, to go caroling with members of my church choir. Circumstances never allowed it until last night. I drove to one of the big hospitals just across the river and met some other folks I know (and a few I didn't) so we could sing Christmas carols in the hallways. Our first stop was a quick one: a choir member's father was in one of the rooms, waiting to go have a procedure done. He's been sick for awhile. He's getting sicker. My friend wanted to drop off dinner for her mom, and hoped that a few of us would come with her and sing for him.
We did just that. Martin (not his real name) has no voice to speak of; his throat has been damaged by the cancer. He whispered hello to us; his thin frame was barely concealed under one of those shapeless gowns. The four of us sang a few carols, mostly hymns, and for the last couple of tunes, Martin's wife joined in with her lofty soprano. Martin listened. I think he wept a little. And we joined hands and prayed for him and that family. He thanked us. His daughter, the choir member, thanked us. We hugged her mom when she walked us to the door.
Then we set off to find the larger group of singers, gathering in a separate lobby. We were all rather shaky by then.
The others had mostly arrived, and we were about 15 strong. We took our packets of lyrics and music and made our way into the hallway. Our leader, the organizer, explained that we all needed to sanitize hands, and that if anyone had indications of a cold or other illness, he should don a surgeon's masks before going into anyone's room. We all sanitized, then soberly made our way to a cul-de-sac where a couple of patient doors were partially open.
We began to sing. One woman closed her door (we saw, then, that she was on the phone—oops!) but another fellow asked his wife to open his door a bit more. He requested "Silent Night," and we flipped through pages until we found it and then set off. We found out his name, sang another couple of songs, prayed with them. He was younger than I am. There they sat, smiling with red eyes, a few days before Christmas, in a cancer ward.
We moved down the hall to a different section of the floor. Another patient stood and came to her doorway, then asked if she could sing with us. "Of course! Please!" we said. We launched into "O, Holy Night," our new friend's mouth hidden by a protective mask, her hair shorn to just a centimeter or two. She had a beautiful voice, clear as a bell; she said she missed singing and that this was the first year she hadn't been able to lend her voice to a choir—but here she was! She could still join in and sing with a group.
It's difficult to be in a place like that for an hour or two, let alone to stay there. My eyes were stinging when I left, but at least I got to leave. I wasn't being held captive in a room, or keeping watch over a loved one, or trying to extract information from a doctor or nurse.
Yet, even in that sterile, hushed place where bad news is all too common, there was joy. Many of those people were sincerely thankful, for singing and family and hope. Even in the face of horrible illness, there is always hope. I came away feeling blessed, not just because I love to sing and the patients seemed appreciative, but also because I witnessed people who, in their darkest moments, have come to grips with the truest understanding of what matters, and Who we can rely upon.
Riches come and go, romance can fade, jobs can disappear, and health can fail. This is a fallen world. Our bodies are temporary, weak vessels. But it's Christmas. We have a savior. We have hope, and salvation if we merely ask for it. We are loved and forgiven.
My prayer for you is that you would know in your heart what matters most, and Who loves you most. Those people who are facing disease and death? I'm sure there are some who are bitter, but I glimpsed others who are clinging to Hope. I'm going to think of them, and choose joy. Even when my neck aches and I'm sleepy—especially when that's all that is wrong.
Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown.