Yesterday, a group of us went to sing carols with the residents of a nearby retirement development. It was bitterly cold, and we were glad to be able to join them in their common lounge, rather than standing on the lawn outside, as Covid-19 precautions had required us to do for the past couple of years. They were delighted that we had come to visit with them, and I can honestly say that it is always a joy, that together with them we were caught up in a blessing.
As we were composing ourselves and handing round carol sheets—that is to say, before we had even sung a note—more than one of the residents looked forward to doing this again next Christmas, if we are still here, God willing. By which they meant if they were still alive. I pointed out that there were all kinds of reasons why some of us might not be here a year from now—the manager is off to spend Christmas with family in Australia, and who knows but she might decide to join them more permanently. Part of joy is anticipation and recollection—this is something the residents look forward to each year and remember fondly throughout the year—but part of joy is also being able to accept the passing of time and the change, the loss, it brings. As we sang our carols, sometimes finding the right notes and sometimes not, sometimes finding ourselves singing in the same key and sometimes not, we reached for each next note, held it for a moment, and then released it. The same with the breaths we took as we sang, or spoke, or simply lived these moments in one another’s company. You cannot take a breath until you have let go of a breath. You cannot sing the next note until you have allowed the last note to pass, to be lost, though not forgotten. You cannot find joy in grasping the moment; the fear that it will pass all too soon robs us of the joy three times over: of joy anticipated, joy experienced in the present, and joy recollected.
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