Christmas time is almost here, and as I sit here before our Christmas tree in this house with my wife of fifteen months, with my 18 old daughter just coming home from her first job, I begin to reflect. Christmas has changed so much. It isn't what it once was. Time has marched on. Rust never sleeps.
Long ago my father used to drive us around looking at Christmas lights. We used to go to a Grandmother's house or an Uncle and Aunts house and celebrate. We used to go caroling. We used to go to candle light services at our church.
So many memories, it is hard to even list them all. It is the last one, the church services at our old home town church, I want to talk about.
Ours was one of the largest churches in our hometown. It was home to a wonderful choir and some really good amateur singers. The services they did at Christmas were simply amazing. More people would show up for them than would attend Sunday services. By a large margin. They were that good. For the most part. There was, however, one part. It was a yearly ritual, a tradition. There was an elderly lady named Betty who was a musical fixture in our church, who sang solo whenever there was a musical performance. Year after year, season after season, she sang. Everyone talked about how amazing she was. Men would shout out "Amen!" when she was done. Me, I was tempted to shout out "Praise the Lord!!!", not because of how her performance had moved me. Because she was finally done. Because it was over. I guess enough time has passed, enough people have passed, that I can finally admit it. She was a lousy singer.
Oh, I am sure when she was young, like maybe back in the 50's or something, she was a fine singer. In the back then days when I heard her sing, I believe those days were long past gone. Her voice was......irritating, grating, just awful. There was a friend of mine back then I confided in about this I told him her voice sounded like someone playing a trumpet that had a big piece of aluminum foil wrapped over the end. Kind of like one of those old electric football games with a metal field that vibrated and the little players would buzz around in circles. It was the sound of bumble bees buzzing around trapped in coke cans. It grated like fingernails on blackboards. It was two chucks of styrofoam being rubbed together by a malicious demon possessed toddler. It was awful.
Every Christmas she sang the exact same song. Sweet little Jesus boy. Sunday nights she would sing songs such as "the world treat you bad, he treat you good". The same songs over and over again. And always, always, the men would shout out "amen!" when she was done. I wondered. Was it just me? Did no one else hear what I was hearing? My father, who was often merciless in talking about stuff, never complained. Not once.
No, it wasn't just me. Others felt and thought the same. Several people I knew and talked with on the sly said the same thing. The fact of the matter is this lady, who I am sure was really very talented and as I said was probably a fine singer when young, just never entertained the notion of stepping aside to let younger more able singers carry on. She had been torturing the faithful for years, long before I and my family landed there. I guess no one had the nerve to say "hey, maybe we should let someone else take a shot at that". It was a tradition after all. And maybe those older guys shouting out "amen!" despite how awful it was understood what hearing those shouted amens meant to her. Maybe they understood how as long as the song director heard guys shouting out "amen!" he was unlikely to bring her church solo singing career to an end.
Maybe having the best singer up there singing wasn't really the point. Maybe my enjoying or not enjoying the performance wasn't really the point either. Sometimes, when someone loves what they are doing so much, you just have to let them keep doing it. Even when they can no longer do it as well as they once did or when there are others who can do it better. Because you really should respect people, especially older people. And after all, a few minutes of musical torture isn't all that big a price to pay if it makes someone really, really happy.
I guess it is a good thing that was all up to folks who were both older and wiser than I was. I, placing entertainment above compassion, would have certainly made the wrong call.