Yesterday Jack and I went Christmas caroling after church. I did not want to go Christmas caroling after church. I'd been at church since 9:30 that morning (pageant rehearsal). I'm a big fan of God and everything, but an hour or so of church will do it for me on any given Sunday.
I tried to talk Jack out of caroling, but he wouldn't budge. He's the world's biggest fan of Christmas carols, and he loves to sing. I suppose I could have put my foot down. But who wants to discourage an 8-year-old kid from singing and being part of church life and all that? Not me, brother.
So off we went. Now let me point out a few things: It was seventy degrees outside. It was December 9th, which is entirely too early for caroling. Very few people are truly in the Christmas spirit by December 9th. Oh, we may be in full-on Christmas prep mode, we may have freezers full of cookies and presents under the tree, we may want to feel Christmas-y, but it's not time yet. Personally, I don't truly get in the Christmas spirit until around December 22nd. Often, around the 16th of December, I start to despair because I'm not in the spirit yet, and there are years when I never get there. But normally, right around the 22nd, when it gets dark so early and the lights on the tree seem especially beautiful and necessary, the spirit enters me and I'm as giddy as a child.
But I felt no giddiness as we set forth down Kimberly Road yesterday. I felt awkwardness, since most of the group was from the choir, and like all choirs, bands and theater groups, there was a certain clubbiness. So for the ten trillionth time in my life, I felt on the outside of things. Plus, our choir has an inordinate number of young men, and so there was a lot of joking that felt less than, well, spiritual.
But at every house we went to, Jack was front in center when the singing began, and he was clearly having a good time, so for the first thirty minutes or so, I was a trooper. Look at me, I praised myself, aren't I a wonderful parent, sacrificing my afternoon for my child's happiness.
Around minute thirty-one, a definite crankiness set in. I was tired of feeling socially awkward. I'm 43 and overall have come to terms with my misfit state, have learned to suffer through it quietly, have learned to silence the defensive thoughts that creep into my mind when I'm hanging out at the edge of large groups ('I bet I'm smarter than they are, I bet my friends are smarter than they are, I bet if they knew I was a published author, they'd talk to me,' etc.). But sometimes it still wears me out.
I was also plain tired. I was wearing heels. We were walking up hills and down gravel driveways. I'm an alto and was having a hard time finding a comfortable place to pitch my voice. I kept telling myself maybe a redeeming moment would come, something wonderful that would make it all worthwhile. Look for the light, I told myself, blah blah blah. Quite frankly, I wasn't buying it. Some events have no redeeming moments. Some things are just a waste of time and the only lesson to be learned is Don't Do This Again Ever.
Oh, I was getting crankier by the minute. Neither the church rector or curate had joined us, and I found that irritating. Okay, so they'd been up since dawn probably, preparing for the Sunday services, but still, even if they'd only joined us for thirty minutes, it would have been meaningful. It would have made the caroling feel more communal, less like a field trip for the choir. It felt wrong to me that they weren't there.
And we were caroling in the neighborhood around the church, a country club neighborhood. Why weren't we spreading good tidings and cheer downtown, where people could actually use a little Christmas comfort? Why were we circling a golf course instead?
Finally, seventeen hours or so later, we reached Marian's house. Marian is an elderly parishioner who still dyes her hair jet black, Lord love her. We stood outside her door and sang two songs, and after we were done, she invited us in. Oh, please God, no, I thought. Please, don't make us go in. I turned to Jack. "Do you want to cut out and go home?" Of course he didn't. He never does.
So into Marian's house we trooped. She led us into her small dining room. She brought out a cold litre of caffeine-free Diet Coke, my most hated beverage, a stack of plastic cups, and a package of store-bought mini-cupcakes. Kate poured each of us a cup of Coke. Ben asked Marian if there was anything else she'd like us to sing. "Oh, 'Silent Night'!" she exclaimed. "My grandfather used to sing that to me in German every Christmas."
So we sang "Silent Night," and Marian teared up and said, "That was my first Christmas present of the year, thank you so much," and we trooped back out into the balmy afternoon.
I was still cranky, and if you want to know the truth about it, I was still pretty sorry I'd come. But even I could recognize that I had been received into Marian's home in the way we are all meant to receive strangers into our homes. And I suspect that in years to come what I'll remember about the one time I went Christmas caroling after church is Marian and her Diet Coke, which tasted so good after walking all that way in my high heels, and her lovely little cupcakes from Kroger, which were delicious.
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