“You’ve got to come, Amy,” Jillian pleaded as she shoved an over-dipped French fry from my plate into her mouth. Then throwing aside everything her mother ever nagged her about, she continued to make her case around the snack. “I have it on great authority“—swallow-- “ that Jake is going to be there. I know you. You want to go but won’t admit it!” And in sharp contrast to her previous lack of manners, Jillian daintily wiped the ketchup off her mouth with a napkin and a curled pinky.
“Whose authority?” She was my best friend, so she was right in knowing that I did want to go, but I didn’t want her to know that I knew she was right. Or something like that.
“Jake’s.” She lifted her eyebrows. “See. You do want to go. That settles it.”
“Christmas caroling? Isn’t that a little old-fashioned? Besides, I can’t carry a tune in a Gucci handbag. You’ve heard me when I’ve got my iPod on. Dogs howl.” I twisted up my lip. “Jake is a music major, in case you forgot.”
And the ever-pragmatic Jillian countered with: “Well, in the event that this does work out, Jake will probably find out at some point before your silver anniversary that you’re tone deaf. So why not make it sooner rather than later?” She got up from the booth. “You’re impossible.”
I was not impossible, just nervous. She gave me a hug. “Be ready at 6:45. We’re supposed to meet the group in front of the nursing home at 7. And wear your red sweater. Very festive.”
So here we are. I’m standing in front of Pine Meadow Assisted Living Center in my festive cranberry-colored sweater, sweating. I knew I should have worn something lighter-weight.
Leaning over to Jillian I whispered dramatically, “How could I have let you talk me into this? This is worse than the time you roped me into that yoga class. And I’m sure that I will end up being nearly as embarrassed and twice as sweaty.”
A large, noisy group coming around the corner stopped me from haranguing her any further. Jake might as well have had a spotlight over his head. I could zero in on him from anywhere.
Soon the time came to break off into smaller groups and Jillian took her position as social director, linking her arm through Jake’s and saying, “Jake. You and Patrick come with Amy and me. We’ll take the second floor.” Subtlety, thy name is Jillian.
Jake smiled and moved closer. “Hey, Amy.” He stepped back to study me. I think my cheeks are the color of my sweater. “Did you change your hair? You look great.”
I’m sure I mumbled something, but I don’t have a clue what it was. I fear I’m beaming.
As our group walked the hallway to the second floor, Jake said, “Do you sing alto or soprano?”
“No,” I answered too quickly. Then I laughed a little. “I mean, neither, really. I can’t sing.”
Jake shook his head. “I don’t believe you. Everybody can sing. Granted, some voices are more…” He waved the air with his hand, as if the perfect word might materialize in front of him.
“Pleasing?” I offered.
“Technically accurate.” He smiled and moved a little closer so I could share his lyric sheet. “Just sing whatever you like and I’ll fill in the rest.”
So there was no choice but to sing.
What else could I do? We muddled through “Away in a Manger” and a few others, though we certainly weren’t ready for Radio City. But neither was our “audience”.
A loose congregation of the aged and forgotten, they sat, paying scant attention to our performance. Except one tiny old lady whose eyes sparkled with something—recognition, perhaps? A memory breaking the surface? Or a glimpse of the Divine?
I was trapped in my thoughts, and amazingly, they were no longer about Jake, but the joy that is Christmas, when the movement caught my attention. The woman had stretched out a wrinkled hand, holding it just above her wheelchair’s armrest. I instinctively moved to grab it and bumped into Jake, who had mirrored my movement. We smiled and each took one of her hands, not missing a beat.
A connection made through the power of tradition. It might be old-fashioned, but that doesn’t make it useless. And although the old adage says that love is blind, I’m pretty sure it’s deaf too.
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