Bring A Little Joy To The World

bring a little joy to the world

The heat slapped us in the face as we enter, shaking off the drizzle from our sweaters. The air, not as unpleasant as I expected, had that institutional smell, a mixture of leftover lunch, sickness and aging. I smiled at my son as he awkwardly drifted to the chair in the back of the waiting room, festive green Christmas tree glasses perched crookedly on his nose. We’re a motley crew, come together as strangers and friends to bring a little joy to the world today.

“Remember, keep it upbeat. Keep it lively. We’ll skip any scary verses or references to Satan. Most people only know the first two verses anyways. Some of those carols can be scary, you know,” Cathy deftly commands. “I’ll lead us. The goal is not just singing – it’s connection. That’s why we’re here.”

I grab Cameron’s hand as the group breaks into a disjointed “Frosty the Snowman”, feeling his hesitancy. As we shuffle down the hall, a grizzled man in a cream-colored, patched down jacket smiles. “‘Joy To The World,’he shouts out. “Sing that one. That’s the only one I know.”

Cathy doesn’t hear, and rolls right into “Rudolph”. The beige walls glare at me as I walk by, darkened rooms with open doors and closed curtains beg for me to peer in. Feeling intrusive, I focus on the next song. “We Wish You A Merry Christmas” rolls out, and I notice the man behind me. His down coat covers a hospital gown, and his right hand clutches a urine bag. “I just got here yesterday,” he tells me. “And look what I get today.”

I smile through my uneasiness, wondering if he’s ok to shuffle along with the group. No one seems to be watching him. I’m trying to concentrate on the song, but my mind wanders. Why is he here? Is he dying? Does anyone know that he’s spending Christmas alone?

“Silent night, Holy night/Son of God, love’s pure light/Radiant beams from thy holy face/With the dawn of redeeming grace…”

I find myself paused next to another man, his dark brown hair barely tinged with grey, yet his face shows his experience. Dark eyes gaze straight ahead, unwavering. I smile, and he stares.

“Silent night, Holy night/Shepherds quake, at the sight…” 

Who does he belong to? Who loves him? My mind searches for his story, for some clue of who he was before, but I get nothing.

Across the hall I catch eyes with a brown haired woman sitting up in her bed. Her youthfulness surprises me; her hands come together in joy as she sees me sing to her, her eyes reaching out as her arms wish they could. I consider walking in, but pause at the sign barring my entry to her room.

Scanning the hall for Cam, I notice he’s disappeared into the crowd. We enter what looks like a common, room. “Keep it jazzy – think Perry Como,”  Cathy reminds us.

“Have yourself a merry little Christmas/ Let your heart be light/ From now on, our troubles will be out of sight”

We struggle with the tempo; maybe the lyrics are getting to us. The man in front of me grips the dark green tablecloth, bunching it in his fists. His head is dipped slightly; I stare, straining  to see if his hands match the rhythm.

“Mom, I was out in the hallway with this lady. I think she was crying.” Cam whispers in my ear. He’s quietly come in behind me, and puts his hand on my shoulder. I’m afraid to turn, for him to see the tears in my own eyes. I know which lady he’s talking about. I feel her eyes reach me through the wall.

The man in the cream coat, still with us, sits down next to a mute woman in a wheelchair. He smiles at her. “I just got here yesterday,” he says, “and look what I got today.” Her closely cropped silver hair is neatly styled, her head bobbing as we sing. The woman next to her rocks gently, as if remembering days gone by. She must be someone’s mother, I think.

“He rules the world with truth and grace
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness
And wonders of His love
And wonders of His love
And wonders and wonders of His love”

Cameron’s voice is deeper than I remember. Time passes quickly, these moments together so fleeting.  “Sometimes when I’m in places like this, son, I try to remember that they could be yours – your great grandparents, your grandparents, your people. You would hope someone would sing to them, bring a little joy to their world,” I whisper to him, and to myself.

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe at jenniferwolfe.net.

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  1. I’m glad you guys went. We’d have gone, but had a birthday celebration in Southern California that same weekend. I think you capture the difficulty of the experience, both from Cameron’s perspective and your own so perfectly, and your wisdom about it is perfect. It could be your own people and you would want them to be similarly remembered.

    In fact, I know one of the stories of one of the residents there. But for an unfortunate, unexpected event (a stroke), he would not be there. He’s a relatively young man, someone you’d expect to see at a party of your peers, not among the old, disengaged, confused… I’m not sure how he’d respond were he right in his mind, but on some level, I’m sure it was better than to be forgotten during the holidays.. even sung to by strangers.

    Good for you going and taking Cameron. Good for Cathy organizing this every year. Will you go again?
    Kari Peterson recently posted…Closing it Out on a Different NoteMy Profile

    1. Thank you, Kari. It was a wonderful experience overall – Cameron and I both love Cathy, and appreciate any opportunity to be with her. Thank you for sharing the story of the resident you know, and yes, I agree it is better to not be forgotten, even if what he experienced is not like what he would have before. I’d definitely go again! Here’s to a wonderful 2015.

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