Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Silent Night (Christmas Eve)

Logan entered the church service with anticipation and excitement to be a part of the Big People’s secret activities. We took the back row, as the last to join the crowd on this Christmas Eve. Our only choice was the overflow area of folding chairs--but we could see straight up to the stage where sacred music was being presented. Logan had so many questions--“What do we do with this candle? Can we take it home? Can I have that (man’s) candle? Do you know this song? I know this song! Is it time to go now?” I kept reminding him to whisper...he kept forgetting. He was charged with emotional energy--believing Santa would come soon; Knowing we’d open some gifts when we got home; Expecting Namma & Dampa’s arrival the next afternoon. I responded to him as a Good Mother should--holding him up to see, whispering answers directly into his ear, encouraging him to go join the other kids on stage, insisting he not wiggle... It was a wonderful moment; Peaceful for me as Logan & I created a private little Christmas Eve bubble around us just next to Daddy.

But then, what could I do!? The lights were put out as the candles were lit and passed--one hand to another across rows and back. An acoustic guitar accompanied a harmonized rendition of “Silent Night,” and I completely and totally melted. I remembered who I am in private--not just Mother to this boy & our happy girl in the nursery, but also a woman who recently lost her grandpa. I remembered in the snap of a finger, in the lighting of a candle, in the pulled string of the guitar, that I was lonesome for days that will never return & for the people who created those moments.

Year upon year my family would pack our car to the near-breaking-point with the Great Gould Gift Gluttony, and trek through holiday traffic via the nation’s capitol to the Colonial Capitol. We’d enter Grandma & Grandpa’s warm and inviting house to be greeted by body-wrapping hugs, lipstick-smelling kisses and the most genuine affection of smiles. Everything had been considered--the pressed sheets were laid out on well-made turned-down twin beds, something was on the stove or in the oven, coffee had been brewed, Christmas music was piped through the radio intercom system, and decorations began at the side door and wound their way through every room to the front door, where an award-winning fresh fruit wreath spoke volumes of a silent night.

We always made a point to arrive in time for the candlight service--which was held in the darkest part of the evening quite close to midnight & well past our bedtimes. There, we usually occupied a full row, or were able to squeeze in tightly to make room for just one more parishoner. We were dressed in reds, greens and golds--all “matchy matching” one to another. We smelled good, and we were clean--as were all the other people around us. Some wore special Christmas hats. Everyone nodded to their neighbor, shook a hand or whispered two words of greeting--Merry Christmas.

The hymns for the night were indicated on a wooden slide plaque on the side wall, as well as typed up in the bulletin--each, a classic piece fully-loaded with impact. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, O Holy NIght, the Little Drummer Boy and of course, Silent Night. The candle lighting started with the minister, and slowly waved its way back one row at a time to deacons & guests in one direction--to the choir director and his charge in the other. For light, we had only the white candles with white paper chargers to collect dripping wax. Each family face was aglow with the interplay of light and shadow given off by dancing flames. Few things have been so beautiful to me in this life as the chain of memories that connect one Christmas to another through one single song & the passing of the flame--“Silent NIght.” It isn’t even my favorite Christmas hymn--I prefer “O Holy Night” or “In The Bleak Midwinter”--but I doubt that any Christmas Eve service in America is conducted without the inclusion of this simple lullaby to the Christ Child.

Silent Night, Holy Night
All is calm, All is bright
‘Round yon virgin Mother & Child
Holy infant, so tender & mild
Sleep in heavenly peace
Sleep in heavenly peace

There is some mystical magical micaulous movement inside my being upon the hearing of the first four notes of that tune. I recall standing beside my grandmother, my mother, my grandfather, my sister, my uncle, my dad...I remember that flickering light on the hymnal, and the shuddering in my chest from the musical vibrations--deep notes that didn’t stray too far from each other. So simple a piece that youth learn it almost by accident just by tinkering around on piano keys, and yet...inspired & sacred.

Silent night, holy night
Shepherds quake at the sight
Glories stream from heaven afar
Heav'nly hosts sing Alleluia
Christ the savior is born
Christ the savior is born

So, this night, December 24th, 2006, in the secrecy of a darkened room, with only a small candlestick of light to give me away, I began to weep--for no more Williamsburg Prebyterian Church services in the now-demolished chapel; no more arthritic gentle hand holding mine and squeezing through the song; no more knowing glances up toward my steady-as-a-rock grandparents. An era is gone. There is no regaining ground--there is only, now, creating new memories for our children--with their grandparents & with us. So, Logan & Teagan shall always stand beside us on this special evening year upon future year. The memories they hold onto will keep my own alive.

Silent night, holy night
Son of God, love's pure light
Radiant beams from thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace
Jesus Lord, at thy birth
Jesus Lord, at thy birth


...To days of Auld Lang Syne.

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