This year’s nursing home caroling service smelled more like death than ever before. Despite this, with one electric piano, one violin, 12 church people, and 30 or so nursing home and drug and alcohol rehab patients, we plowed through the first verse of every carol in the hymnal.
The hard years hovered in the room as an odor. The toasty space provoked bad memories for many of us who had seen a parent or friend undergo the end of life. The years showed themselves on the tired faces and in the white hair of the patients. A fake albino Christmas tree stood in the corner—it, too, petrified to whiteness.
“We will all be going this way,” I scribbled into my notebook. After I marry and move away and enjoy my allotted span of cognizance, I will become the elderly woman curled in a chair. Like her, maybe, I will peer around the whole room and wear warm socks. I hope to remember, as she does, the most important Christmas words: “God and sinners reconciled.”
I thought the thoughts I usually think in nursing homes. At times like these, it begins to mean something to you that Christ destroyed death. It means something that He has invited you to join Him in fighting darkness.
We sang on as gustily as we could, but soon the shouts of a patient interrupted our singing. A woman in a green sweater used a walker to move to the center of the room. She shouted, “You told me you were a Seventh Day Baptist!”
The accused, my not-Seventh-Day-Baptist pastor, tried explaining to her that he had not done so. She cried out again, “These are not Seventh Day Baptist songs!”
Our spirits creaked with the tension in the room.
Again: “You implied you were a Seventh Day Baptist! That’s dishonest. Not a very good way to begin preaching!”
Suddenly, sitting there, I realized I had been identifying with the wrong patient. I was not the meek woman curled up in warm socks. This woman, this protestor in the green sweater, was my kindred spirit. She was disputably the most dramatic event we have ever encountered at these Christmas services. The attending nurse escorted her out three times.
I instantly recalled events from my middle school days: roller skating rallies where I let smoke come out my ears because I disagreed with fine points of the gospel presentation. I used to sit on the sidelines drawing clarifying diagrams of soteriology for the edification of other listeners who sat down beside me to watch.
I approached many occasions with the intention of finding fault and setting it all right myself—until a few years later when I learned to call that spirit in me “pride.” Back then I was the flaming critic. And who knows? If God wills it, I might become the same again in my senility.
At last the woman in the green reentered. As our songs drew to a close she pronounced her public approval: “Very nice.”