However, God had other ideas. He always does.
This was going to be the part of my day that I really wouldnt've minded skipping. I was home, I'd surprised my family and friends, gone to church and eaten potluck, and I was ready to go walking. Not go sing at a nursing home with a few elderly folks who were...well, different from most people. They were old. Not like me.
Or so I thought.
I sat against the wall in a chair, more bored than anything else. My voice started to wear out, I was getting impatient for the time to be up. I didn't want to help my friends sing the special music, so I sat where I was and listened.
After the girls sang their song, one of the daughters of a lady who lived there at the nursing home said that maybe in a little bit she could sing Amazing Grace for us. This suggestion was loudly supported by most of those in our group. I, however, said nothing.
Honestly, how could someone do that? That just seems a little vain to me.
After a little bit, the lady got up, and with the other girls as harmony, sang Amazing Grace. It really was very nice, but I still wasn't impressed. It seemed stuck up to my dulled perception.
We sang a little bit more, and then the lady who sang Amazing Grace suggested that Alice, a very elderly black lady in a wheelchair, sing a song for us. She seemed a little embarassed, but said she would, but she didn't know what to sing. One of the other ladies in the room called out, "Oh yes, Alice! Sing that song that I like so much."
Alice seemed to consider the request, and turned a little in her chair to look at the lady behind her. "You mean His Eye is on the Sparrow?" Somehow, her dark eyes, elderly bearing, and her soft African-American drawl intrigued me, and I sat up a little more.
"Yes, that's the one!" The lady behind her seemed pleased. "Sing it for us, Alice!"
Alice thought for a moment, and then looked up at the ceiling. "Try B flat."
I was surprised. B flat? This lady knew her notes better than I'd guessed. Jaime played the chord on the piano, and Alice shook her head. "That's too high. I don't think that'll work."
The thought of Alice singing had nearly died out when Jaime triumphantly held up a music book. "I've got that song in here! Let's see if it's in the right key."
Opening the book, Jaime played the first chord, and Alice hummed it under her breath before nodding. "Yes, I think I can do that."
After a very short intro, Jaime looked across the room at Alice. "Ready?"
As Jaime began to play the song, Alice began. She was quiet at first, and it was as if she was struggling. But the farther she got, the more confident she became. She closed her eyes, singing the words that were obviously so familiar to her in a soft, humble way that I'd never heard the song sung before.
I found tears filling my eyes. My thoughts of vain display were gone; all I could see now was Alice, as she must have once been.
"I sing because I'm happy...I sing because I'm free..." As Alice got into the chorus, her right hand came up, and, with her eyes still closed, conducted the music in a way that spoke of the glory of what had been years before. Her voice became stronger, louder, and she filled that room with the melody of her past. "For His eye is on the sparrow...and I know He watches me..."
The song swelled with that wonderful voice, the wind behind its sails: Alice giving it her own special variations to the tune that were so unique and yet so characteristic of African-American singing. I could see her, about 40 years younger, in a little white-washed church beside a dusty country road, dressed in a white choir gown and conducting an energetic group of black men and women singing the very same song that now rang in my ears from her voice. I could see her admonishing them to put power into their singing... "Sing it out like you mean it!"... I could see it.
And then it ended. From the heights of melodious song, Alice came down to softly land at the wrap up, as gently and quietly as she'd begun. The chords from the piano died out, and a sudden storm of applause took its place, accompanied by the gentle patter of awed "Amens" from every corner of the room. Alice's eyes opened again, and she looked as if she'd never given such a stunning performance in her life. Mike stood to his feet and made his way to the front of the room, almost shocked. "That was awesome, Alice!"
"It sure was! Alice, you're a wonderful singer!" The lady who'd sung Amazing Grace for us piped in with her encouragement.
Alice only shook her grey head slowly, looking absently at the table top. "My voice is gone now."
"No it isn't! Not at all!" The chorus of the aforesaid denunciation of her statement vibrated through the room, but I knew what she meant. The voice that she'd once had...the voice that had been the real Alice all those years ago... was no more. I found myself wishing that I could've heard her sing in her day of glory...and that as I walked out the door.
I was later told by one of the other members of our group that they had commended her on her singing, and asked her a little about if she used to sing when she was younger. I imagine she must've smiled before responding. "Oh, they once kicked me out of the church choir cuz I was overpowerin' the rest of the singers." I wasn't at all surprised.
Somehow, my perspective changed. I wasn't aware that a blessing was in store for me at that place where everyone wasn't like me.
Alice changed my mind.
Somehow, somewhere down inside each one of those elderly people, is someone just like me.
There's a song by Michael Card called Underneath the Door that I only recently discovered. The lyrics go something like this....
My father was a doctor, who would come home late at night
With a soul so bruised and bleeding from his unending faithful fight
To keep a hold of kindness in a world that isn’t kind
To hold out the hope of healing to his hurting humankind
And he’d flee back to his study, to his bookish quiet place
With notes and books and journals, to all in his special space
Then he’d lock the door from things that cannot be locked out
And his youngest son would starve for what he would always do without
But it was meant to make me who I am and for all these many years
Till the little boy down on his knees full of hope and full of fear
Calling underneath the door, “This is me, it’s who I am”
For we love the best by listening, when we try to understand
Desperate stubby fingers pushing pictures neath the door
And longing to be listened to, by the man that I adored
Inside someone who needed me just as much as I did him
Still unable to unlock the door that stayed closed inside of him
And it’s strange the way we tend to flee from what we need the most
That a father would lock out his son when his heart would hold him close
But our wounds are part of who we are and there’s nothing left to chance
And pain’s the pen that writes the songs and they call us forth to dance
It's those last two lines that really make me think about Alice...and all the others like her.
Our wounds are apart of who we are, true.
And no, nothing is left to chance.
Pain is the pen that writes the best songs, undoubtedly...
And it's the songs that are written...or remembered...in pain that call us forth to dance with joy unspeakable. It's the memories that produce things worth having and recreating.
Take a look at your life. Are you living in the shattered fragments of what once was, like Alice? Are you chasing rainbows and waiting for lightning? Have you ceased to remember what has gone by? Have you lost the dance inside you?
Listen to the song that God's singing to you.
He's calling you out from amid the broken pieces...to dance.