“. . .sing, all you who are upright in heart.” Psalm 32
My father once gave me the end of a novel. I was struggling along, trying to figure out where that story was going, when he and my mother came to visit, went to church one Sunday, and sang, with the entire congregation, the old Fanny Crosby hymn “Blessed Assurance.” The image of him, face aglow, became the last scene, the one I was looking for.
So when he died, just a few years ago, something in me wanted that hymn sung at his funeral. I wouldn’t have asked for it, because I was afraid that the reasons for me wanting that hymn would have been more related to my work, my writing, than who he was, even though part of the reason I was so taken by him that Sunday was his effortless joy in affirming that Jesus was, in fact, his.
Miraculous?—I don’t know how to gauge miracles; but when I talked with my sister about the shape of Dad’s funeral, she said she’d told Mom that the hymn we ought to sing was “Blessed Assurance.” There had to be some divine intervention there, don’t you think?
So we did—at the memorial service for my father we sang “Blessed Assurance.” Well, most people did. I didn’t. I couldn’t. But I loved it, even though I’d never been particularly taken with the way it swings, well, tediously, through the chorus. But you don’t have to like something to love it—and to feel heaven and earth moved.
My father had died rather quickly. He wasn’t young, and when he fell carrying a box—he and Mom were planning on moving—a wicked series of cause-and-effects eventually took him, no more than a month later.
But it was only then that I came to believe what my mother told me—that Dad had been in the early throes of Alzheimer’s, that his condition had manifest itself in many ways, some of which we discovered when going through his things. He was a banker who prided himself on keeping books, but his checkbook was a disaster, corrections scratched in monthly, sometimes for outrageous amounts. He couldn’t keep it anymore. Must have been very vexing for him, but he never mentioned a thing.
Some boxes he’d packed were a jumble. My wife looked at one of them strangely, and said she was sure she could see he was losing it—kitchen utensils with socks and clothing items. Made no sense. My father was always organized.
But my mother’s stories were most convincing. He couldn’t sing anymore, she told us. My parents had sung together as loyally as they’d daily meditated on the Word. When I was young, they used to face off and play table tennis, Mom usually winning. Eventually they grew out of that and into Rummicube, but no matter what else they were doing, they always sang together, my mother at the keyboard.
That he couldn’t—that, in those last weeks of his life, he lacked the wherewithal to put word and voice together—had to be immensely painful. Millions of people die everyday in more difficult pain, perhaps, than my father ever felt, even in dying; but I can’t imagine how he suffered, not being able to sing.
So this verse feels like my father, today. “Sing,” David says. Sing.
I’m not sure my father looks much different today than he did that Sabbath when he gave me the final scene of a novel. But I’ll grant you this, there’s even more joy on a face that just won’t ever stop shining.