Wednesday, December 26, 2012
Holiday (sniff) joy
In forty years of teaching, I've corrected tens of thousands of student papers. Corrected is a mean word--read them would be better, commented on them would be more accurate, or just criticized maybe. Corrected makes well-wrought student essays sound like multiple-choice tests. But then, some war-torn former students I know might say I sure as heck "corrected" theirs.
Criticizing student papers is an English teacher's calling, but it creates a personality disorder. I criticize things. What am I saying?--I criticize EVERYTHING: movies, stories, novels, TV shows, sermons, worship services, even the Bible, for heaven's sake. I criticize the words that appear magically on the screen in front of me even as they are being written. I'm not making this up. I criticize the way I dress--I rarely make it through a day without changing clothes. I criticize the way my stomach plops over my belt the day after Christmas--well, really, day after day. I evaluate constantly and criticize everything.
And all that red-penning numbs me. I analyze, I perfect--or try to. I left-brain my way through life and miss epiphanies others experience. I never go ape. If I'd had been on the Nazareth hills, keeping my flocks by night, and the angels appeared, I'd have said, "Hey, I didn't see a halo in the bunch." The others would have been running down the hill to Bethlehem, and I'd be standing in the night bedecked with a wrinkled forehead.
So on those very few occasions I go into a swoon, I'm shocked. When something comes into my soul and pinches every facial nerve, pushing tears out of the corners of my eyes, I can't help but take notice because my English teacher's faculties have deserted me. I am a reasonable soul; I don't trust emotion, for pete's sake. But sometimes I almost cry.
Four times I almost lost it this Christmas--four times. Scary. Ten years from now, I'm going to have to pack Kleenex whenever I leave the house. Three times it happened in church, which is comforting because it means there's still hope for my cynical soul. Twice it happened at the end of worship, when the chemistry of the moment tripped the light fantastic. Maybe it was simply the young, wildly happy pastor dancing around in his inimitable way, so full of joy the rest of us couldn't help catch the bug.
Once it happened when my grandson sat beside me in church and we sang a carol or two--don't even know which. Those tears sprung from some hybrid Christmas emotion--kids, the remembrance of things past, and the vision of my parents, like zombies, in the pew with me, a legacy of faith--something like that. I couldn't sing. Out came tears.
It's the fourth one that still has me baffled. It's a story on NPR. You can read it--or hear it--here. It's got nothing to do with manger scenes, no "Silent Nights," and no nostalgia. It's nothing more a bunch of Toronto-ites who get together to sing at some bar. Trust me--they're not Cantus or Chanticleer, the Dale Warland Singers or the Dordt College Choir. They're just a bunch of strangers who get their kicks by making music. Had me sobbing--I swear.
They honestly don't know what they're doing. They're not trained musicians and have no musical degrees, but they direct, they arrange, they harmonize, and, good night, they sing. It's like group karaoke maybe, but infinitely better. They make music--sort of. And they couldn't be happier.
It's just plain sweet, a great story, and for whatever reason it tugged the heck out of my heart strings. No, I'm not going to start an ad hoc choir in Alton, Iowa; but the whole story, strangely enough, turned me inside out.
Today, it's the day after Christmas, always a downer, the waiting over. I know it's not supposed to be over because advent is all about waiting for Him to come again, and there's epiphany and all too. Sure, I get that. I'm not supposed to be depressed, so I'll work at it.
And maybe it's a hair early for New Year's resolutions, which I never make anyway. But maybe this year'll be different. Maybe this year I'll toss the red pens I've been packing in my holsters for all these years and work at peace instead.
Maybe I'll just sing. I'll work at it. Maybe I'll even start packing Kleenex.
Anyway, you got to love those kids in that Toronto bar, or am I just losin' it?
Posted by J. C. Schaap at 5:58 AM