Sunday, December 24, 2006

Christmas Ghosts

It's Christmas Eve, and I'm supposed to sing tonight. I'm the alto section leader at St. Francis Lutheran, a great little church in San Francisco that restores my faith in Christians. It's a paid gig, but I was looking forward to it beyond the dollars it would deposit in my bank account. They're lovely people. And though I'm not Christian myself, they've warmly welcomed me as part of their community during my many years singing there.

We did a concert last night of Christmas music -- some choral, some sing-alongs -- and it went very well. My voice was a little weak from the illness I've been fighting all week (not always successfully), but I made it through. The last carol about did me in, though, as my extremely tired vocal chords told me when I got home.

As it turns out, though, they were more than tired -- they're down for the count. I've got laryngitis. Nothing is more frustrating to a singer and Gemini than laryngitis. I've been drinking tea, trying not to talk, and hoping that resting all day would do the trick. But I had to face reality: I couldn't croak out much of anything tonight, much less sing Renaissance polyphony.

I called the choir director to give him the bad news, and he had to ask me to repeat who was on the phone. The form of the message pretty much gave him the content at the same time. Luckily, tonight's Christmas Eve service has a lot less music than the concert, so I'm sure the alto section will do fine without me.

Irrationally, I feel the need to apologize. To him, to the choir, to the folks at St. Francis. To Emily, too, for being sick during the holidays. It's just biology, I know. Nothing I've done wrong. No willful disregard for my commitments or other people's reliance on me. I've been extra careful about trying to get better -- better than I normally am.

Still, the whole thing feels heavy with meaning.

I'd been concerned about the carol that did me in -- "Angels We Have Heard on High" always makes me think of my mom, who died around this time two years ago. And with her death very present for me over the past few weeks, I knew chances were good that I'd start weeping as we sang. (I'm fine showing emotion, but crying makes it very hard to sing.) I'd started girding my vocal loins when the organ played the opening measures of the final sing-along instead. I breathed a little more easily -- he'd accidentally skipped ahead.

At the end of the concert, though, as the choir started filing off, someone in the pews stood up and said, "Let's sing it anyway!" and launched in -- about half an octave lower than the sheet music. So we came back on and everyone gamely kept singing. Without the organ accompaniment, though, I wound up oversinging on an already overtaxed voice.

In that moment of skipping ahead, I felt as though my mom had played a trick. "You thought you had to make it through this one, but I just wanted to see if you still loved me!" I'd been willing to take her test, then given a reprieve. But when the song came back around, I knew the reprieve was a mirage. That, too, felt like her.

No tears came (I was too busy trying to ignore how wrong the notes felt in my voice), but the difficulty singing came anyway. So my lot this Christmas Eve is silence. Most likely on Christmas Day, as well. I don't know if I'll be able to call family members, or get on the line to my in-laws when Emily talks to them. This feels like a form of enforced meditation. (Silent Night, indeed.)

Interestingly, my first impulse was to write. I trust my instincts, and I trust that my body knows things that my intellect hasn't grasped yet. Certainly, it's got my attention. So I'm using the required silence to let words emerge anyway, to use my voice anyway, and to be heard, no matter what the obstacles.


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