“Oh, Yvette, it’s you. I didn’t expect you to answer the phone.” I could understand that. Often, when I make a call, I rehearse the message I will leave when I get to voicemail while the phone is ringing.
“Well, it is me,” I laughed. “How can I help you?”
“Yvette, tonight is Hymn Sing at the Home. Susan has laryngitis. Could you fill in? It’s only about half an hour. Sing what you like.”
Could I fill in? Good question. Or, more to the point, did I want to fill in? My intuition told me that the hymns I learned in my small-town French Canadian Catholic parish + the hymns I have been leading in my own parish during the last 35 years ≠ the hymns the residents would be able to sing along to and want to hear.
“There’s a book, and the people will sing along, and you can choose what you want.”
“Sure, Jackie, I’d be happy to come.”
“Really, Yvette? You’ll come?” Sometimes, I shudder to think of the impression I must make on people.
“Yes. I’d love to. What time?”
“Okay. See you then.”
So, after work, I stopped at home to pick up our two parish hymnals, just in case I needed a melody. This was to be an a capella gig, and I might need some support. As I navigated toward the Home, I thought of my strategy : first, the familiar, then the familiar to them that I could support with the piano. It just might work.
Residents had started to gather when I walked into the recreation room about 5:45 p.m. Some wheeled in on their own power, and found a place in the lines or by the wall. Others were taxied in and positioned. Kathy glided over to say hello. “Are you visiting here tonight?” she asked.
“Yes and no,” I replied. “I’m here to lead the Hymn Sing. Jackie is desperate.”
“I never come to Hymn Sing,” Kathy commented.
“Well, you have to come tonight,” I encouraged. She stayed. I excused myself to check out the song books. They confirmed my original fear—lots of hymns with only a few lines I could hum on my own.
“Hey, Yvette,” Virginia piped up. “The music for the hymns is in the binders on the piano.” Bless you, I thought. I am saved.
We started with “He’s Got the Whole World.” Safe, I figured. Upbeat. People clapped. We sang all the verses in the songbook, and then made up our own. “He’s got the wind and the cold . . .” and then, three days before the Grey Cup, “He’s got Rider Nation . . . In His hands he’s got Rider Nation . . .” That song set the tone. I smiled, and wandered among the audience, and they smiled back and sang along. We went through “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore You,” “Lord of the Dance,” “Amazing Grace,” “Here I Am,” and “Abide With Me”. Although I had to use the piano a few times, I handled some requests and we made it through the session. When I announced the last hymn, the residents had the grace to sound disappointed.
Afterwards, they insisted I stay for cake and coffee. I thanked everyone individually, shaking hands and looking into their eyes, seeing my father among them in the last two months of his life, and seeing myself in their place twenty or twenty-five years down the road. One hour of my time invested in something so simple brought so much joy to a singular group of people.
All because I answered my cellphone, and said ‘Yes!’ A powerful word, Yes.