Friday, November 27, 2009

something to sing about

Tonight we broke out the craft table and started coloring.
Christmas scenes. The manger. Evergreens and wreaths.

And now I am listening to Christmas music and instead of trying to wonder what it all means, I am just letting it happen.

The transformation that comes from believing in something greater than yourself.

The small inkling of hope that comes from seeing beauty in the ruins. Something familiar in the wild. I imagine that's what the British settlers must have felt when that first little baby, named Virginia Dare after the Virgin Queen, was introduced to Roanoke. It was probably no small relief when they saw with their eyes, felt with their hands those soft little baby fingers that gave evidence to the mysterious cycle of life that continued despite being so very far from home.

I remember as a teenager going to some crack houses in Philadelphia, handing out hot egg sandwiches to people who were skinnier and sadder than they should be. Everywhere I looked, the story was not good. All the clues--the boarded up windows, door frames that no longer bothered with an actual door, kids in ragged clothes that fit somebody at some point, but it sure wasn't them and it sure wasn't now--added up to a people who had given up hope.

Until I met him.

One guy, whose name escapes me all these years later, was different.

Not because he didn't quickly grab a sandwich or wasn't addicted to crack or worse. But because of two things that still stand out clearly to me now:

He looked me in the eyes. Like we were both people. Just people. Neither better or worse than the other. Maybe luckier, sure, but not better. And what's that saying? We're all on the same level before the cross. Well, that's true. And we are also all made up of DNA, of thoughts we learned to think from the way the world has reacted to us through the years, and a jumble of painful wounds and loving touches that make us who we are today.

And there was an air of transcendence about him also. I felt it when he opened his mouth and sang for me. He sang Amazing Grace and I couldn't help but believe it. All of it. I saw the wretchedness of his home, felt where he has been and knew without a shadow of a doubt that he needed somebody and was not about to turn grace, any grace, down.

And there he was, just singing. In the ugliest place in Philadelphia, it was beautiful. Like an alter not built from materials that can crumble with the passing of time, but made from a raw honesty and the desire to look up, up, up; past these old buildings and even the charity that would fleetingly last the afternoon, he sang and made life better.

And no, a song can't fill your stomach and no, a song can't pay your bills, but it sure can transcend you. It sure can remind you that there is something more to life than our own hollow desires and the way that we clumsily hurt each other.

And I guess that is why I am going to keep on singing.

Because I want to look up, up, up. Not in denial, necessarily, but in belief that there is still something to sing about.

Sorry for the deep thoughts (by Jack Handy). Maybe next time I listen to Christmas music I will write about silver bells and whether or not an angel or a star should top the tree.

Um, totally a star, by the way.


kathiek said...

Beautiful, Jess. There is much to sing about. And even if the songs are sometimes sad, it is better to sing them out than swallow them or deny them. Here's to hope that we can sing out strong and clear even when we feel weak and our eyes are clouded by tears. God bless and keep you, my friend.

Mom said...

That man at the crack house had a wonderful voice. And a destiny that was so much more than what he was living at the time. I think his name was something like "Sylvan." He had been off crack for long periods of time and when he was clean, he would go to a wonderful church in the area and be part of their work in the city. And, of course, he would sing in the choir.

Michele said...

Um, sorry Jess, but it's definitely an angel! The lights on the tree represent the stars in the sky and the angel is, well, the angelic host :) Keep singing!

Jessica Latshaw said...

see the thing is, I don't like to have anything on top of my tree that has a face. it creeps me out for some reason.

Nina said...

This is a wonderful post. Thanks for sharing the story about the visit to the crack house...

When I lived in D.C., there was a homeless man who used to belt out "This is the day that the Lord has made..." in the metro station near my apartment. His song was so joyful and it never failed to make me feel so grateful for a new day.

And I'm with you...a star belongs on top of a Christmas tree!

Emily said...

sooo a star! because it's prettier, and in better proportion, and because of The Star over Bethlehem. And what a beautiful post.

Emily said...

sooo a star! because it's prettier, and in better proportion, and because of The Star over Bethlehem. And what a beautiful post.

Emily said...

how does that happen?

Michele said...

Ok, everybody stop picking on me! There were angels there too! :)

Jessica Latshaw said...

there were totally angels there, too, Michele--and they even had faces--but like I said, it's just weird to have some little doll-like creature with a sanguine face staring down at me from the top of the christmas tree...!

jason said...

I vote for a clown on top of the tree.

Jessica Latshaw said...

I guess I should be grateful that you don't put Ivan on top of the tree.

kathiek said...

We put an angel on top of our tree, too, Michele. We may some day have a star up there, but so far, it's just been an angel.

Mandy and Jack said...

We have an angel. :) But I'm not anti-star. I do enjoy a good star.