It has been a hell of a week here in Southern California, so I was reluctant and tired and not sure I wanted to keep our plans to meet friends and go caroling at two convalescent homes. At my wife and family’s urging, we eventually got together with a small group of people. Among them, a friend whose brother actually worked at the facility where 14 people lost their lives this week. His brother was OK but the entire family was shaken. I wondered how THEY had found the holiday spirit with all that’s been happening. We started making ornaments for the residents, carefully decorating one for each, a little holiday factory of good will. But I still wasn’t so into it, there’s so much bad going on, what can a little good do. We packed our bags and grabbed our song sheets and went off on our way to the nursing homes.
They can be intimidating places but there was no turning back now. We rolled into the first song and off we went down each hallway: “Walking in a Winter Wonderland”, “Sleigh Bells”, “White Christmas”, all the classics. Slowly we made our way around, as I sang out of tune, blending in to the back of the crowd, still not fully in the holiday spirit. And then it happened. We sang “Silent Night”… and I saw one resident in her nightgown actually burst into tears and retreat back into her room. I didn’t know if it was happiness or sadness, or that weird combination of the two that hits us all sometimes at the holidays. I looked back for her as we kept walking wondering what had happened.
A few minutes later she appeared around the bend and I caught her eye. So I went back and introduced myself. She said her name was Julie, and her sons were guitar players like the ones we had with us, and that she enjoyed what we were singing. I thought that was it and we said our goodbyes and a happy holidays to each other.
But as we continued caroling, all of a sudden, there was Julie following along, first at a distance, and then up close- and then in a minor miracle- she grabbed my daughter’s hand and started dancing in the hallway, twirling her and dancing, one song, and then another, as she smiled and clapped and danced, and then smiled some more. We sang “Feliz Navidad” and now I was grinning ear to ear. After a long week, I had been bitten by the holiday spirit, a Jewish guy singing holiday tunes to whoever would listen. I was feeling happy.
As we wrapped up our singing for the night and left, I went back to Julie and wished her a happy holidays, and I went to shake her hand… and she grabbed my hand and hugged me instead... I hugged her back and we said our goodbyes. Outside, I heard others in the group talking about the woman who had been moved to tears. I told my daughter how proud I was of her, that she made Julie smile, and then my other daughter pointed out that Julie was still standing in the window.. watching us all as we left, I’m sure with one of our out of tune Christmas carols playing in her head, and we waved one more time. I thanked the organizer of the caroling, and thanked our friends for asking us to come. Even after what they’d been through this week, they still saw the good that could be done. Now I did too. The holiday spirit was there all along, I just needed some help finding it.
Julie dancing with my daughter…