All is Calm, All is Bright
In my first book, Laughter, Tears, and In-Between, I wrote a story about singing a solo in church when I was nine years old. Singing in church was not unusual. Most often I sang on Sunday evenings, mornings being reserved for adults and all.
Schumacher Elementary School had inaugurated a program teaching German over the classroom loudspeaker. It worked well enough for me to learn a few words and sing Silent Night in German. My mother insisted I sing it at church. I was terrified. This was not the same as belting out America the Beautiful. This was a foreign language, at Christmastime.
But the choice was not mine, so there I sat on the second row next to my mother, far forward from our usual spot in the middle of the sanctuary. I wore a red argyle sweater with a white shirt and black bow tie. There in the wrong seat with a heart full of fear, I wanted the entire season to be over. “Please, dear God, take us straight to January?” But there were no miracles. The introduction began and I haltingly started, “Stille Nacht, Heil’ge Nacht, alles schlaft; einsam wacht…” And that was it. I fled out the side hallway and camped behind a pillar, peeking back into the sanctuary.
My father stood to preach and motioned with his right hand to come back inside the sanctuary. But the hallway was my sanctuary and I would not budge.
The service ended and people started trickling out. When no one was left but my family and a couple of elders and their wives, I slowly made my way back into the sanctuary. My brother and the Arnold boys were snickering in the back.
There was no conversation on the short drive home, but when we pulled into the driveway, my brother and mother got out of the car and my father asked me to stay with him. We headed down to Lawson’s store on Copley Road. Dad gathered a few things and then picked up a pack of Wintergreen LifeSavers. When we got back in the car he gave me the LifeSavers and patted me on the knee. Those were the best LifeSavers I ever tasted.
In my book, that is pretty much where the story ended. I used it as a sermon illustration a time or two, and retold the story in a Christmas Eve service.
Five years ago I was taking one of the final courses for my doctoral degree, a class on psychotherapeutic groups. One day we were asked to come to class with a story from our own background. Since we didn’t want to appear all that vulnerable, everyone in the class chose a subject that was not too personal. I chose this story, well rehearsed and deep in my past.
One of the instructors was a remarkable therapist from a Colorado retreat center. When I finished the retelling of my Christmas to forget, she asked, “Do you know why your mother did not come to get you?” I was stunned. Instantly my eyes welled with tears as I contemplated the fact that not once, not now, not ever, had I asked myself that question. After a long silence I replied, “It never occurred to me that it was something she might have done.” In that way therapists have, she replied, “Oh my.” My fellow students sat in silence, respecting the gravity of the moment.
After awhile the therapist said, “Cathy would have come to get you.” I cried so very hard. She was right. Cathy, with a heart of grace and a soul of compassion, my best friend and companion for the past 42 years, would indeed have come to get me. I know it beyond a whisper of a doubt.
She still will.