Tonight we took our girls caroling at the long term care facility. My Missionettes girls are in 4th grade, and at the spur of the moment, we joined the middle school and high school girls to drive across town (a whole two minute drive) and do two laps around the really tiny wing of the hospital. Please don't imagine well dressed girls with caps and coordinating song books. We were a rag tag bunch singing the choruses from memory. Please don't imagine beautiful rounds and well practiced carols. We sang off key renditions of Jingle Bells, Santa Claus is Coming to Town, Silent Night and We Wish You a Merry Christmas. We busted up on our attempt at Away in a Manger and moved on.
This has been a pretty standard activity for my group of girls for the last, wow, eight years. Usually I am just a tag-a-long. Rarely am I the one that organizes any of it. Some years we practice. Most years we don't. Some years, the residents all join in the common room to listen. Some years we just stop at the open doors.
To hear us sing, any choir director would probably cover their ears and run from the building... but for me, there is something pure and magical in the sound of soft, uncertain voices ringing together... hesitant at first and then clearer and stronger. The words not mattering as much as the unison. I followed in the back, diverting would-be stragglers and tentatively adding my own quivering notes. What a blessing to watch the girls peer into rooms and shyly wave as they sang! Formerly downcast eyes light up to lift wrinkled cheeks into a grin. Whispered explanations from the staff... Sometimes I feel like an intruder. Like we have broken the dreary silence they have become accustomed to. We woke some. We vied with the Wheel of Fortune re-run for attention. We were, in a few moments, there and gone. Soft, echoing footsteps with shaky voices shining a light into a dark corner of our town.
On our second trip around, we took a detour and caroled down a short dead end hallway. Only one room was occupied at the end. As we folded into each other to turn back around, I heard the nurse say, "Do you want to listen? They are here to sing to you." As we passed, singing, "...siii-ilent night, hooo-oly night..." I paused to look into the room. I am always curious. Are they really awake? Do they even know we are here? Are we annoying them? As I saw her worn face, beaming at the sight of the girls and the sound of their voices, my eyes welled up with tears. She was a tiny lady, barely a face and wispy gray hair peeking over the Christmas quilt on her hospital bed. Her shaky hand wiping away a tear.
Did our detour mean that much to her?
I won't ever know, because we didn't stay very long. I left a handful of hastily made Christmas cards with the nurse, and we left. Being there made my heart ache for the loneliness and hopelessness that some of the residents must feel. I suddenly wanted to volunteer my time to sit with them and be company to those whose family didn't visit or write or call. I wished I knew their stories. Does the man watching re-runs of Wheel of Fortune like that show or had he just been parked there until someone moved him? Are the nurses friendly? Do the residents have faith of a better life after their hospital bed? I won't ever know, because I probably (sadly and truthfully) won't think about it for very long. But tonight, just for a moment, we gave the gift of song.