(Christian Courier column, April 27, 2015)
I joined the Golf Lakes Harmony Notes while in Florida this past winter. It’s been fun. The choir sings popular music (from six decades ago) and, surprisingly, an abundance of Christian pieces. In fact, the choir’s motto is Psalm 104:33: “I will sing to the Lord all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.”
We have a gifted director and accompanist, both 79 years young. They are “retiring” at the end of the season. Thankfully, replacements have already been recruited. Our choir “uniform” varies … blue Golf Lakes polo shirts and white pants for casual events, black and white for church services, sequined teal capes for sing-outs, and sequined silver capes with fringe for concerts.
One event stands out. Our choir visited Westminster Towers, a sizable residence for seniors in Bradenton, owned and operated by a Presbyterian association. We entered a spacious auditorium, decorated for St. Patrick’s Day, with festive green streamers and a stuffed toy leprechaun grinning rather maniacally on a desk at the back of the room. Many residents were already seated; more were arriving. A solid audience of about 75 seniors. Ruth, our pianist and song leader, handed out the songbooks.
Before our performance, we chatted with the residents. A blond woman on the sidelines, with a walker in front of her, thanked me for coming. Our pleasure, I assured her. The lady next to her asked where we were from. I told her we were from Golf Lakes, a mobile home park, but I couldn’t make her understand. “I’m blind,” she said, as if that explained it.
We opened our binders and sang some oldies: “When I Grow Too Old to Dream,” “Let It Be Me,” “Catch a Falling Star.” Many of the residents were singing along – a woman whose head shook uncontrollably, her dangling earrings glinting and dancing in time, a man with a cowboy hat, a couple of ladies in look-alike cardigans. In the front row a heavyset younger woman sat in a wheelchair, her hair pulled back into a severe ponytail, her glasses as enormous as those we wore in the 70s, in matching sky blue jogging pants and t-shirt, both embellished with silver studs. She had a presence, singing along confidently with every number. A black male attendant yawned through most of our selections, but pitched in on “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” Every time our pianist called out a number, a handsome gentleman with a cheerful expression shouted it out again — louder. Directly across from me was a man with his arms folded across his chest, scowling. He didn’t sing at all. But, I thought to myself, he’s in the front row. Maybe that means something.
At the end of our “concert” we sang “Happy Birthday” to three individuals who had March birthdays. One was our jovial announcer. He told us, chuckling, that he was 39. The blond lady who had thanked me for coming had a birthday, too. She was 85. The third birthday celebrant was a diminutive woman in a wheelchair, draped in an elegant paisley shawl. She was 96. With a captivating smile, she gestured at us, repeating, “I love you all. I love you all. Thank you. Thank you.”
Birthdays. A cause for joy. Or not. Three men in the audience had significant bruises on their bald heads. One had a black eye, too. There were more than a few listeners whose heads hung on their chests, never looking up once. Many of our audience members weren’t permitted, because of diet restrictions, to accept the homemade cookies we handed out.
Yet one song got a rousing response: “Count Your Blessings.” I, myself, could hardly choke out the words watching these aged folks sing the final verse:
So, amid the conflict whether great or small,
Do not be discouraged, God is over all;
Count your many blessings, angels will attend,
Help and comfort give you to your journey’s end.
I hope we were a help and comfort for those elderly friends. Could it be we were their attending angels that day? I know this much. If I ever end up in a nursing home, I won’t be consoled by the luck of the Irish or leprechauns or homemade cookies. I’ll be pining for the songs of faith. And if those good old hymns are sung by some ragtag choir of ordinary seraphs, I won’t care what uniform they’re wearing. They’ll be clothed with Christ.