All the best things
There was an older man in line in front of me at the Owls Head church supper. I had never met him before, so he grinned and stuck out his hand to shake mine.
Then we worked our way down the line, scooping meatballs and mac 'n' cheese and salad onto our plates. I lost track of him when I sat with my family at one of the fold-out tables.
Later, after the meal, he was back again, at the end of our pew as we all gathered to sing Christmas carols in the sanctuary.
He was looking with great interest as my 7-year-old daughter and her little friend showed him a drawing.
“Oh yes, look at that,” he said as they pointed to the little self-portraits they had made. I made a guilty mental note, as I often do, to take more time to pay attention the next time she shows me one of her pictures.
The service was part sing-along, part worship service and part talent show. Walker and Ann Hutchins led the singing. They vamped amiably together at the front of the church, like a veteran show-biz couple. Walker grinned and asked if everyone could see his halo. “I'll tell you the true story later,” Ann said as an aside.
There was a good turnout.
My son, Wesley, and I shared a hymnal as we sang “Away in a Manger” and “The First Noel.”
I wondered, not for the first time, how I'm supposed to pronounce “In Excelsis Deo” after the long “Gloooor-or-or-or-or-or-or-or-or-or-or-or-or-or-or-or-or-or-or-ria!” (We counted the 'ors'). So I leaned in to listen to how my wife, Christine, was singing it, which made her self-conscious. By the way, Google tells me it is Latin for “Glory to God in the highest.”
Wesley accused me of singing like Mr. Bean, mumbling the half-remembered words during the verses and then coming in strong on the choruses.
Our church drummer boy is a tall young man named James, who was in a state for a few moments because he had only one drum stick. The pastor's daughter came to the rescue, handing him three more and Ann challenged him to use them all at once. He stuck one in his sock, another in his teeth and proceeded with the two in his hands.
Then came Esther's piano solo. She banged the keys with practiced authority, giving the piano no option but to obey. Oh the medley she played! Loud and fast here, soft and sweet there, tightly controlled. It was a performance Jane Austen would have described as “capital.”
Before and after the service, the little kids my daughter's age ran and laughed and chased each other around. Babies could be heard howling between songs.
Wesley grew impatient during the service. How many more songs before he could go home to his television?
I couldn't believe he didn't appreciate what was happening.
This is a community, I thought. No one is left out because they are too old or too young or too sick or too different. We're all spending time together, eating together, singing together. It's not perfect, but for a moment it's unified.
Despite all the best things, there was sadness Sunday night, a trauma still too recent to shut from our minds. It made me angry to have such thoughts intrude in this space.
In one of the songs we sang, I found we weren't alone.
We sang, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day,” with words by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, a fellow Mainer.
“And in despair I bowed my head,” we sang. “'There is no peace on earth,' I said, 'for hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, good will to men.'”
So what is the answer offered in the song, I wondered. In the end, the writer found his comfort in faith.
“Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: 'God is not dead, nor doth He sleep; The wrong shall fail, the right prevail with peace on earth, good will to men.'”
I know there are many faiths and many traditions, and this is a time of year when many celebrate very differently what they are thankful for. We find common ground in that many of us are thankful for and value the same things.
May you find love, peace, unity and a sense of community.
Daniel Dunkle is news editor for Courier Publications. He lives in Rockland with his wife and two children. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on twitter at @DanDunkle.