So I said some time ago that I was going to tell you about some friends of mine when I could do them justice. I’m going to try.
I grew up in a church where the only instruments are the voices of the people, and boy, they can sing. I cut my teeth on a cappella hymns, and my daddy was a song leader. He liked to sing gospel quartet music with his friends, too, and I learned to sing harmony when I was pretty young. Music runs in the family – my oldest brother is a professional tenor and choir director (among other things). My name even means “song.” It seems fitting that I should love to sing. And I do.
But while singing along to the radio is right and good, it’s not the same thing as making music with a bunch of other people. So I went in search of some kindred spirits. I found the City of Flags.
They’re a part of Sweet Adelines International, and they perform barbershop-style a cappella music. I settled in to the baritone section and was happy to be singing harmony again.
What I didn’t realize was how deeply entwined my life would become with many of the women I met. I became fast friends with Kim, who still takes amazing pictures of my boys. I found out the Miriam is the mother of another friend I go to church with. Jody, who seems reserved at first, turned out to have undiscovered depths of humor and a penchant for wandering into retreat hotel rooms at 1:30 in the morning and leaving all the occupants in stitches. Meredith strong-armed her daughters into coming to chorus, and they became my chorus trip roommates, along with several others. It would take forever to mention everyone by name.
Serendipity had a little fun, and our floating slumber party had almost the exact ingredients for a double quartet – two voices on every part. We were missing a bass, but Meredith pulled in her friend Jan and we were good to go. Our rehearsals were fantastic fun but not always very productive – we made some great music together when we shut up long enough to sing.
It’s a lovely scene I’m setting, but the backdrop of my life during this time wasn’t so pretty. Paul and I took a big emotional hit, and then I had a series of medical incidents that resolved just fine but were really just an awful pain in the neck. (Pun totally intended. Please remember to tip your bartenders and waitresses.)
Music was a welcome distraction from all of this, and the women I was singing with were wonderful. They cried with me, prayed for us, visited me in the hospital, and made me laugh. When things turned for us and we adopted a sweet baby boy, they couldn’t have been happier. When we found out a few weeks later that he had cystic fibrosis, they cried with us again, and then they listened to my fanatical rules about handwashing and Purell and did just what I asked them to do. (We had to be a little crazy that first winter, especially about RSV. RSV is bad even without CF. He didn’t get it – yay!)
Two years later, when I surprised them (almost) all by walking into the middle of a rehearsal with another baby in my arms, they cried again. My babies went with me to chorus when they were little and laid across my chest in the sling as we sang – when they hadn’t been snatched away by a gaggle of self-appointed aunties.
With two boys, though, it got harder and harder to keep up with chorus. It’s a long drive each way, and it’s not just once a week; there are retreats and contests and extra rehearsals, and all of it costs time. And some money, too. I just couldn’t keep it up.
Things went on without me, as they do, and pretty soon I didn’t know everyone in chorus anymore. Which is why this next bit was really a surprise.
City of Flags has a Christmas party every year, and they used to do a gift exchange. In recent years, they’ve foregone that and instead given the money they would have spent to someone else. One year they raised money toward medical equipment for a member’s grandson, as an example.
Last Christmas, they picked us.
They’d heard about our trip to Disney World, and decided that as fantastic as Wishes Can Happen and Give Kids the World both are, they couldn’t think of everything. And so between the chorus and the double quartet (new baritone in residence), they put together an amazing, wonderful, generous gift, and sent it with an ambassador, just before Christmas.
Our lodging and meals were taken care of the entire week we stayed at Give Kids the World, but I desperately wanted to go to the beach. We got three nights there, in large part financed by the generosity of these women, many of them friends, but many others total strangers to me. When we visited a couple of weeks ago, I told them about the day that I spent in a lounge chair in a cabana, looking at the ocean. I went back up to our room to eat, but that was pretty much it. That day? That was all them. It was a day that fed my soul, and I am profoundly grateful.
I don’t know whether it’s cultural or inherent, but it’s surprisingly difficult to receive generosity. It feels good to give, and all the proverbs say it’s the better part of the equation.
But I think it’s important to learn to receive graciously, too. It requires some humility, which isn’t something
many of us are I’m all that comfortable with. It means admitting that we I can’t do everything alone. That we I need other people. It’s a dangerous proposition, needing people. It’s messy. I don’t much like messes, but I think I’m getting better at recognizing when they’re worth it.
This here, now, is an example of a very fine mess just waiting to happen.
Things turned out much better than anticipated, due in large part to the extra hands provided by Auntie. (Altogether now: THANK YOU AUNTIE!!!!) Some of the fruits of our labors:
Damages were contained to only one broken egg per boy, and no massive color spills. I think the plastic tablecloth was an astute move, if I do say so myself.
I wish you a good Passover, and a Happy Easter. Whatever it is that you celebrate, may it involve dear friends, and good food, and a worthwhile mess.