I'm still frightfully over-committed and under-completed on some important tasks, but I simply had to relate a story I heard tonight. However, to appreciate it, I probably need to give you a little background. (If you're easily made queasy, you might want to skip down to the "SAFE" spot.)
We lost our Mr. M., one of my dear children's choir assistants, due to some very sad and painful issues last summer, which I will not go into. So it's back to "Miss M." and "Miss [Psalmist]" working with the young musicians right now. And while the children and she and I miss Mr. M., we have a great partnership; I honestly do not know what I'd do without Miss M.'s generous, supportive presence each week.
Now back on the Fourth Sunday of Advent, a day upon which much churchitivty was scheduled, I woke early and felt a little "off." So what? You just go and serve anyway, right? Well...by the end of the early service, I knew that my digestive system was badly out of sorts. By the time the late service began, I knew I was in trouble. I had already warned the adult choir that I might have to step out fast and a vague explanation of why. They said they'd be in prayer for me. Thanks to those prayers and some stern self-talk, I kept it together through the early part of the service. The first anthem of the morning was a very lovely one, which featured three young sisters (as in, three girls, ages 7 - 12, from the same nuclear family -- dressed in Christmas red taffeta dresses and white sweaters...what could have looked sweeter?) singing the solo part together. I wish I could say I remember every beautiful nuance, but it's mostly a panicked blur to me. When we reached the end, I managed a cut-off of sorts, but before I could express my thanks and pride to the girls, I was already past the point of no return. I left the adults to seat themselves while I fled to the closest restroom to be as sick as I've ever been in my life. My one conscious thought was gratitude that I made it to the restroom without disgracing myself.
Did I mention there was a stomach bug making the rounds, both at my day job and at church?
One of my altos, a retired RN, came to help me. I did feel wretched, and probably looked worse. It would have been wise to go home at that point, except that there was another anthem to conduce and I was scheduled to sing "O Holy Night" near the very end of the service. So I coughed and rinsed and did other unfortunate but desperate things to clear out my throat, then touched up my face and lips. Amazingly, due to some primal urge to protect my vestments while, uh, "doing the sick thing," there was no sign of my incapacitation on my choir attire. By this time, it was nearly time for the second anthem; it was then or never about leading it. I led it, then made my way to the hallway to pull myself together a little more fully. My innerds were still protesting, but less violently. I remember praying hard that I could make it through the rest of the service before hurling, passing out, dying, or any combination thereof.
I made it through the next anthem, "O Holy Night" (though that one, I know not how), and leading the final hymn and benediction response. Only my choir members, the pastor, and the pianist knew what was going on, though I could hardly have looked very good to the congregation. After the response, the choir filed out, wisely keeping their distance. I sat, foggy and exhausted, in my assigned "psalmist's" seat, while the pianist completed her postlude. That's when she went to work on me. My next gig of the day was supposed to be to direct the children's choir Christmas program at 5:00 p.m. and I had given none of the children any indication that I might not be there. However, the pianist insisted in the strongest terms that she did not want me there; in addition to wanting me to take care of myself, I should also protect the children and the attendees from whatever plague I was suffering from. The pastor concurred. So, after another sojourn into the poor unfortunate restroom, I headed home, with a brief detour to the local supermarket to get sugar-free sports drinks and popsicles and some chicken broth and saltine crackers. I made it home without mishap (surely only by the grace of the Almighty). By the time 5:00 rolled around, I had gotten into my coziest nightie, up-chucked once more for good measure, forced down some strawberry Zero, and was fast asleep. Forgive me, dear children and beloved colleagues and volunteers, but I did not spare you much thought.
Did I mention that Miss M. is an angel?
She, the pianist, and the pastor made the program happen. Miss M. explained to the children that I had to go home because I was very sick from a tummy virus, and I couldn't be there. By all reports and some sweet pictures, it went quite well. The children's Christmas gift of a snappily-dressed teddy bear I still don't exactly understand, but it touched me when I got it on Christmas Eve the following week.
It's safe to start reading again now.
Did I mention that Miss M. also teaches Sunday School to the 4th - 7th graders?
After we said good-bye to the children following tonight's choir rehearsal, Miss M. told me about a conversation she had with K., a 5th-grade member of the choir, the night of the program. It went something like this:
K. asked Miss. M. who was taking care of me while I was sick. (Choking up here. . .) Miss M. said that I was taking care of myself. He opined that that was wrong, that somebody ought to be taking care of me. He asked if I had a husband to help me (answer was no), and then if I had any children to help (again, no). Miss M. assured him that she and the pastor and I are very good friends and that the two of them would be checking with me to see if I needed anything, but that when someone has a stomach virus, they probably just want to be left alone to get well. She tried to assure him that single people are used to not having someone else living with them. He asked if she thought I was happy being single. Miss M. said that I seem very happy and content with my life. She did mention that my two cats were probably very good company; he reportedly frowned a bit; he and his brothers do love their dog and treat cats with suspicion. K. then asked Miss M. whom I was going to spend Christmas with. Miss M. reminded him that I was going to help lead both Christmas Eve services, so I'd have time with all kinds of church friends. He wasn't buying it, though. She assured him that single people get lots of invitations from friends, and I would probably be going to someone's house for Christmas dinner. And while she said that didn't really satisfy K., he agreed to pray for me to get well soon. And Miss M. thought that was the end of it.
It wasn't. Now, a month later, in Sunday School this morning, K. brought up the subject of my singleness, relative to my having no designated care-taker if I get sick again. She told me the child was extremely concerned about this problem. Apparently they had a repeat of their Christmas program discussion, sans the "Where's she going to spend Christmas" question. And again, K. said that something ought to be done so I never had to be sick all alone again. He said something about "She needs somebody."
(From your mouth to God's ear, child! I kinda, sorta got "somebody," but pretty soon he'd better decide if he's going to fish or cut bait. This "somebody," however, is not being discussed with any except my closest friends, and won't be unless and until we're seriously dating. He is NOT a topic of conversation with the choir children!)
Now mind you, I was in tears throughout most of this story. The child in question has only recently come back to choir after over a year away (he was "King A." in our Esther musical). He has had a great attitude, but he and I haven't ever talked a whole lot; he's a firstborn introvert -- something I know a bit about. And he wasn't at choir tonight. I'm not to let on to K. that Miss M. and I had this conversation, and I won't. And no, I won't set his mind at ease by explaining I have "somebody."
But dang! Isn't that a great story? Who wouldn't melt at a youngster having such genuine concern and empathy for oneself -- or for anyone?
My choir children sing like angels, but K. has earned his wings for sure. And my child-loving Wesleyan heart has been warmed a bit extra tonight, thanks to a fifth-grade boy's and a grandmotherly choir assistant's love. I only hope they and my other young musicians perceive something of the love I have for them, too.
Sometimes, you just know that life this side of the veil couldn't possibly be much sweeter.