Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Of Church Fans, Music, and Aging

I wrote this post some years ago. On this gray and chilly spring day, it's nice to remember the intense heat of summer.

They still exist, those heavy cardboard papers on an overgrown popsicle stick. They still have the reproduction paintings I remember from church bulletin covers and the fans: Jesus, a light glowing around him (an aura, we’d say now) standing at the door and knocking, as Revelation 3 says he does; Jesus as the good shepherd; Jesus presiding over the Last Supper. Blessed as I am to worship in an old church that’s added air conditioning, I’d forgotten those fans. But it all came back, the Sunday nights of sweltering on hard wooden pews after the sun had baked the building all day, the brick exterior retaining the heat, trying to catch a breeze from one of the windows cranked open, wafting Jesus on a stick back and forth, feeling the sweat trickle down my spine.
            A friend and I had gone to an old church in the village for a joint concert presented by the community chorus and a group of five women best known for playing Celtic music. In true egalitarian style, the groups took turns: the chorus, the Celts, the two groups together. It got cooler after the sun went down, but we were still longing for air.
            The music was worth staying for. Music is almost always worth staying for, whatever the physical discomfort. In addition to the loveliness of sound, last night included unexpected bonuses. The Celtic women had branched out; they included a Croatian courting dance, Licko Kolo. My maternal grandmother had come from Austria and spoke Croatian; I wondered if she had known this song, had danced with the necklace representing her dowry around her neck. Thinking of my grandmother—who was old by the time I knew her and lived to be 95—as a young girl was soothing. Most people, I suspect, would prefer to be remembered as they were before they became old and ill.
            The day before I’d seen a video—not even worthy of indie film status, but a true labor of love—about the Angel of Colombia. When still a child, a boy named Alviero had become concerned about the plight of the abandoned elderly in his barrio. He organized a squad a guardian angels—children like himself, to help the old ones. The story is incredible; this nine-year-old finding a way to feed up to forty elderly people, begging food at the market for them, getting medicine, seeing that they were bathed regularly, organizing exercise and dance classes to get them moving and rekindle their interest in life. His passion has resulted in a 135-bed facility for them. In one segment, he was introducing a shrivelled crone to the gathering—she had been the first Miss Colombia. He listened to the stories and remembered them as they had been before he knew them, so great was his imagination.
            That movie, my grandmother, the older members of the community chorus, all wove together as I watched and listened to the music. When the group sang an Indonesia lullaby, I saw one of the grandmothers cradling her black music notebook like a baby, rocking softly back and forth as she sang. Ah, the sweetness that music gives, the softening, the remembrance.

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