Friday, December 10, 2010

Things Remembered!

Some stories just take time to process, and more time to gain a proper perspective, in order to relate them to others. This is one such story for me. It took these 6 years to be ready to share it with you all. It is a story that needs to be told, and I hope to do it justice. The first time I had to be away from family for Christmas, was the most painful experience I had ever lived through prior to 2008, but that is another story I am not ready to tell. 
I don’t think living is what I felt like I was doing, from the moment I stepped onto the plane, until that one Christmas night. I was asked to fill in for a friend on a cruise ship in Hawaii for three weeks and at the time I had not worked in a month. I was trying to decide what I was going to do with my music career while the corporate events world struggled to recover from 9-11. As a matter of fact it was my wife who actually accepted the job for me. I refused to go… If you guys haven’t figured out who is boss in your homes just yet, take it from me your wives all know the truth.

Three weeks before Christmas, I found myself standing in the Honolulu airport, waiting for transportation to the cruise terminal, at the world famous Aloha Tower near downtown. I was glued to the window like a child soaking in one of God’s most glorious landscapes. I couldn’t decide which way to look. The ocean was, and is, breath taking. The mountainous dormant craters were green, like you know God meant, when he spoke Green into being. I was silent and in awe of the beautiful spirits of the local folk, but I was truly, and deeply, sad that everyone I love wasn’t there to experience this wonder with me. My sadness was multiplied by that ever-present desire that my wife be by my side. Yes, I do love to travel, but I never truly enjoy most of it, without her commentary and laughter. I know one day we will travel to all of these amazing places again, so she can walk on the beaches of Hawaii with me, instead of seeing pictures of her name drawn in the sand.

Once I was settled into ship life, (I had never been on a ship before), I was actually happy to perform. Anything to take my mind off of the fact that Christmas was coming and I would not be spending it with my little ones. The performance venue was very nice and the people were very receptive, and yes, I smiled as if nothing was bothering me. That was little help, because from that first night, no matter how much I smiled, not matter how upbeat my songs, no matter the level of reverie in the room, people would sit and cry every night.  Several years after the fact, I ran into one of the people who had been there one of those weeks, and had witnessed the crying, and she told me that she personally had cried because the sound of my voice reminded her of longing for things she remembered. She said one Christmas song I sang actually sounded like a broken heart weeping.  I knew my sadness was well founded and real to me, but I HAD NO IDEA that what was down in my spirit could get past my smile. You know; ‘Smile though your heart is aching, smile even though its breaking, etc…”  

There was one couple, who came every night for five nights, and in speaking with them, I learned that the wife’s sick parents were on the cruise with them, and that this was probably their last Christmas together. I asked why I had not met her parents, and she told me that her older sister had come along to take care of the aged couple for the trip because she was most familiar with their needs. She said they went to bed each night on a regular schedule. The young couple gave me a sense that the older sister was very protective and IN CHARGE!!

Well Christmas day finally came and I just couldn’t bring myself to get out of bed. I lay in bed all morning and well into the afternoon. Why get up?…no Christmas tree, no little children jumping into my bed dragging me to a bedazzled tree, to open presents, no eggnog, no Christmas morning kisses and hugs, no Christmas presents! Did I mention no Christmas presents? ...For the first time in my life I would not be giving a single gift to those I love. I would not be opening a single present. I was finally reduced to the guy providing the paycheck to pay for it all. I was too depressed. Even when I called home my wife would not let me talk to the children she did not want them to be sad, and she would not talk to me because she knew it would ruin her ability to keep the brave face for the children. I WAS ALONE, and let me tell you, IT SUCKS!!! I then understood why Christmas has the largest number of suicides of all the seasons during the year. Though it was an impossible time to be alone, I learned something so amazing that Christmas. 

I do a lot of praying, and I know God was probably a little disgusted with my watery, and morose prayers. I was embarrassed to be feeling so ridiculously sorry for myself. It could not have been uglier… trust me, but I prayed for joy, and almost anything to cheer me up. What would he send to help me get through this one VERY LONG DAY? Wouldn’t you know it, God in his truly infinite wisdom, also has a serious sense of humor. I turned on the television and there was a movie just starting, so I thought cool, ‘I won’t go out to eat, I’ll order room service, and I’ll just lay here and watch.’ Have any of you seen the Notebook? Apparently I was the only one in the world who hadn’t seen it. When I later inquired of my friends, some cringed, and some just laughed out loud, especially when I told them that I had spent my lonely Christmas morning watching. For those of you who have not seen “The Notebook”, let me give you fair warning. This is not a movie you watch when depressed. 

The main characters of the movie relive their love story of 50 years, as written in a personal diary or as the the writer calls it; the notebook. At the end you realize the storyteller had taken the time to write their story because she knew she was going to suffer severe memory loss with her progressing Alzheimer’s disease. IN the movie her husband reads the notebook story to her until her memory returns, and they have a few short moments of recognition where she know him and they are again as they were, before she floats away again, into her memory loss. He reads it to her time, and time again, waiting for those few minutes when she can remember him and they dance together to their favorite song. In the end they pass away, lying next to each other, during one of her moments of clarity, and are found the next morning by the attending nurses. This is a beautiful story though very sad.

That evening I went to sing as usual, wearing my smile and feeling lonelier than ever. Before I started singing, a beautiful woman in her late 50’s approached me wanting to ask me some questions. She was very poised in her black Chanel suit, blond hair slicked back, and looking very much like an older Catherine Deneuve. She was quite cold in her questioning and stern. She said, “I am here with my younger sister, her husband, and my aging parents.” I did not interrupt her because I could see how intense she was. I got the distinct impression she was scrutinizing even the way I was breathing, so I stood very still and relaxed to let her tell her story.
She told me that earlier that Christmas morning, the whole family climbed into a rental car in Maui and drove the road to Hana. For those of you unfamiliar, this scenic drive is among the most beautiful in the world. The road winds through lush greenery unlike anything I have ever seen, along steep cliffs, and endless blue ocean views. It is a rather long drive and so, during the journey, the family listened to my Christmas CD. She first said to me, “I want to tell you what happened to me today and then I need to you to tell me what you think about my story.” I said sure, not quite understanding what she meant. She told me that Her mother was suffering from Alzheimer’s and that her father was very ill and lost without her. He was very hurt that she did not know him. During their long drive to Hana my version of “The Lord’s Prayer” started playing on the radio. The hard woman's face grew even more ice-like as she told me she had been sitting in the back seat next to her mother, who had not recognized her in four years, when all of a sudden, her mother took her by the hand and began singing along, and singing directly to her, like she had always done, when the woman had been a little girl. She paused in the telling to watch me, expecting something from me… The first thing I said was, “That was a serious God moment you had, thank you for sharing it with me. I am so happy for you. That really made my day.” My comment broke all of the ice from her demeanor and she was completely different at the mention of God. 

She told me that she had refused to allow the situation to touch her fully until she found out whether or not I was believer. I did not understand what the issue would be regardless, but I assured her that God authors such miracles, and not men. I did not wish to debate her reasoning, because to me the fact that her mother woke up and knew her again was vastly more important than any religious opinion. God puts his stamp on many things none of us will understand on this side of heaven. She finished her story, in tears, saying how after her mother finished singing to her, she told her daughter thanks for all of her help, kissed her cheek, and then she vanished again. Everyone in the car knew that special gift was what the older sister had truly needed. She would have that memory long after her mother passed on. She wept, shook my hand, and thanked me for the music and for helping her mother come back to remember her. She thanked me even more that the music had taken her back to a place in her childhood long forgotten. She was overwhelmed that of all the things her mother could have remembered, all of the lost things, the forgotten things now gone from her world; that God had allowed the oldest daughter to be the one of the things remembered.

As for me, that was one of the best Christmas presents I have ever received with the exception of He who is the reason for the season. It taught me Christmas is definitely about anything but self and I was ashamed that I wasted the day in bed. God did however, give me “The Notebook” to show me, he was thinking of me, had a plan for my day, and no matter what he was going to be there for me. He made sure I knew that particular Christmas, that my heart was one the things He remembered. May it be so all of my Christmases. May you find ways to remember God and others this Christmas and may you see and recognize when God makes your world, and your hearts, part of His wondrous Things remembered. Grace, Mercy, and God’s Favor…Merry Christmas!!!