This is the third of nine winners in the Deseret News annual Christmas writing contest, "Christmas I Remember Best."
Snow was falling heavily on that December night in 1975 as a group of us senior girls spilled out of a small car.
Laughing, having barely made it through the storm to the nursing home on Highland Drive, it was the final singing engagement of our Christmas season. We were late and realized that our strict high school music director would be furious, but hey, we were more concerned about the snow ruining our perfect hair and outfits than we were in being late.
After all, what was the big deal anyway? Just another old folks’ home and we’d already sung at so many; surely doing them a favor brightening their day even if they couldn’t hear well enough to appreciate our fine efforts.
So brushing the snow off us as best we could, we pushed through the door into a dimly lit room where we were met with the expected stern look from our frustrated director Mr. Miller, instantly silencing our laughter. As a group of 24 Madrigal singers, we’d worked hard to learn the collection of carols and songs for the Christmas season with all the carefully memorized harmonies and words; so that finding our places in the group mid-song without missing a beat wasn’t hard.
Soon Mr. Miller’s anger softened, and the music flowed as we fell into the rhythm of our familiar musical program; some carols upbeat and cheery, others ancient and mysterious. Song followed song until it seemed in no time we came to our final number, always our last one: “Silent Night,” a dissonant favorite.
In the dark room, lit only by Christmas lights, there was a quiet, reflective mood. As we started to sing "silent night, holy night,” I looked around for someone to sing personally to, something I enjoyed doing on this song.
People smiled and swayed to our music throughout our program; but I found when singing “Silent Night,” people’s eyes often glazed over and became dreamy, lost in their own nostalgia. Tonight was no exception and as I picked a little old woman sitting nearby in her wheelchair for my "special person," I noticed her eyes weren’t looking at us but instead gazed into the window beside her, causing me to sing only to her reflection.
Then, somehow with twinkly tree lights mirrored in her eyes by way of the window glass and perhaps a little magic from the spirit of Christmases past, anyway, an unexpected thing happened to me. Even as we crooned, “All is calm, all is bright,’ a sweet scene arose before me in the glass as I indirectly gazed into this woman’s eyes.
To my mind’s eye there came pictures not of a shriveled elderly woman, but of a young, vibrant one. It’s as if I entered into a brief journey along with her for a lifetime of her Christmas memories, both joyous and sad, heartfelt and heartbreaking; a lifetime of Christmas dinners and celebrations.
Perhaps I even thought I saw reflections of a son lost in wartime during years of deep hardship, sorrow and sacrifice, as I seemed to see and feel some of what she had experienced.
“Round yon virgin mother and child. Holy infant so tender and mild. … Heavenly hosts sing Alleluia …”
Tears formed in my eyes as I sang deeply for someone I didn’t know, but for whom I now felt love for with all my heart. What an epiphany! I realized, old people hadn’t always been old. Amazingly they had been young once, full of life just as I was.
Through this experience, I realized that even in their twilight years their lives mattered very much to God. He knew them and loved them just as he always had.
“Sleep in heavenly peace.” The song quickly ended, but through my Christmas miracle, time was stretched and sweet lessons learned. No longer could I be the center of my own universe with the world revolving only around me, as I realized that God truly loves and cares for all of his children; even the old and shriveled ones.2 comments on this story
During the remainder of that magical night, our group continued to be profoundly touched as we gathered to sing in private rooms for those too feeble to get out of bed. Humble souls, they gazed at us with a childlike appreciation, grateful for Christmas messages that brought images of a loving Heavenly Father and his newborn son, sent to save a sinful and dying world — a world they were not long for.
That night I found that God can perform Christmas miracles for those who will let him, because what is Christmas for if not to soften and change people's hearts? May the true spirit of Christmas continually change us and help us to always rest in his "heavenly peace."