Dearest Rachel –
Back when I was studying calligraphy in junior high, I drew up a motto for my great-aunt Belva that read “Keep serving the Lord: the pay may not be good, but the retirement plan is out of this world.” I’m sure it was lost in the cleanup after her passing (amazing to realize that was less than a decade ago; we’ve lost a lot of family in the past ten years, haven’t we?). I suppose at this point, you would know as to on what that retirement plan was like. Granted, we can’t get your commentary on it, more’s the pity, but at least I trust that you’re enjoying it.
For the time being, it’s left to us to continue with the efforts here on earth. And at this time of year, some of us wind up putting in enough hours that we might well be entitled to time and a half. Good thing the work doesn’t actually pay, so that technically, we are getting that time and a half. One hundred fifty percent of zero is still zero, after all.
It started with yesterday’s rehearsal, which ran from, say, 6:30 (we were to assemble an hour or so before that, but that was in order to be fed beforehand. Ironically, I’d picked up dinner for Daniel a couple hours previously from the exact same place – Chick-fil-A, naturally. So I actually was neither needing nor wanting anything once I showed up at church – which seemed to be just as well, since they were running short of food, but Jansen went to pick up more regardless) until some time past ten. For what it’s worth, there are a lot of moving parts to a typical church service, and a Christmas service that much more so. If a typical service is like a pocket watch, a Christmas service is like a town clock; it’s just that much bigger and more elaborate. So running through a service like this – and correcting all the parts that need it along the way – is gonna take this kind of time.
Still, in my position, it results in a lot of sitting around, waiting for everybody else to determine what needs to be adjusted, who to take which parts, entrance cues and blocking, and everything else that goes with a production like this. In comparison, my job is relatively easy; I just change the sides with each line, and switch between cameras and the display screen for the benefit of those in the lobby. It’s not a difficult job at all, but it does need attention at just about every moment. And so I’m here, working with everybody else to make sure I’m in line with everybody else as much as they are with each other.
And then there’s the day of the actual performances. After having put together a decent breakfast – well, it was substantial, anyway – I waited for Daniel to wake up, but once it became obvious that he wasn’t going to before I needed to head out, I simply plated his cinnamon roll, kissed him on the forehead and murmured that I was on my way (and let him know when the folks would be attending, but that it was up to him when to show up).
Actually, I needed to do some grocery shopping beforehand, since it’s my responsibility (as you well remember) to put together the brunch for Christmas morning. Thankfully, the grocery store is between home and the folks’ house, which furthermore is between home and church. So it’s a fairly straightforward progression from point A to point B to point C to point D.
What I hadn’t counted upon is that the grocery store on Christmas Eve was as crowded as the mall was the other day. Although in fairness, I got a wonderful parking spot only two bays in. Ave Guinevere, as I always say. At least I know where everything is there these days, so scooping up everything I needed didn’t take all that long. What did take some time was getting checked out.
By the time I was on my way out, it was already half-past eleven, and I needed to be at church before noon. All I did was to pull into the folks’ driveway, drag the couple of bags of groceries in, explain what everything was, and – once reassured that they’d know where to put everything – head straight out. Their willingness to help out with this sort of thing is a real comfort.
I made it to church with maybe ten minutes to spare, and got into position as the band did a last sound check and a run-through of transitions. With less than an hour before the first service (and the need to have a countdown set up for the thirty minutes leading up to it), there wasn’t much time for anything more than that. Good thing we’d put in those four-plus hours yesterday.
I do find myself feeling for the others in both the band and production at this point. While it’s true that I still presumably have Daniel to attend to under my roof, he assures me that he’s fine on his own – despite dealing with the same loss as I am (although it’s different to lose a mother as compared to a wife and life partner, I suppose) – and I have to take him at his word on that. I hope I’m doing the right thing in that. But apart from him, I don’t get the same feel like I’m neglecting my family on Christmas by doing all this. Of course, if you were still here, you’d probably be spending two out of three of the services in the nursery, regardless, so is wouldn’t be as if you were left behind. Maybe all the difference is in the fact that Daniel can come and go to church as and when he pleases – and maybe that’s why he’s okay with the situation at hand? But the rest of the cast and crew don’t necessarily have that kind of luxury. Jen, one of our lead vocalists, has her husband tending to four young children, just as an example. She tells us he’s amazing when it comes to working with them, and if he’s willing to let this happen, I can’t do anything other than believe her, but wow, I can’t imagine spending Christmas Eve juggling four kids on my own like that.
On the other hand, it may be that that is his way to serve the Lord, by taking care of them so that she can perform her own service on stage. Here’s hoping it all gets counted toward their own individual retirement plans.
Each program covers just a little bit more than an hour, with a little less than one in between so that people can come and go. And while the band members have to be the face of the church, and mingle with the crowds in those passing periods, I at least have the advantage of being able to hole up by myself in the booth, rather than having to mix with everybody else, and deal with those who would wish me well at this time – and pay that supposed compliment back to them.
Cousin Doris, who lost her husband Dennis to cancer just about two and a half years ago (indeed, some folks have suggested to me that he may have greeted you early on by asking “What are you doing up here, and where’s Ralph?” because of the critical nature of dad‘s illness just as he went into decline), has occasionally been coaching me through this, acknowledging that ‘the first year is the hardest,’ and that dealing with others can be one of the most difficult things. And while she told me who said it to her, I have since forgotten, but it’s something to bear in mind when people remind me of your loss (as if I could forget), “They mean well.”
Yes, I’m sure they do, but I’m just as happy to stay out of the spotlight for now, and not have to deal with it. Besides, I’m still trying to work out what to say to you as I tell you about my day – or, at this point, my evening.
And it is evening by the time everything has been said and done. Another six plus hours put in. All of which needs to be done, and all of which keeps my mind occupied on what might otherwise be a very long, dark night.
The folks have me and Daniel over for dinner afterwards. Ironically, they were going to be ordering and picking up Lou Malnati’s pizza – which was just being served to the team between the 3 o’clock and the 5 o’clock services – except, for whatever reason, Lou’s stopped taking orders at a certain point, for whatever reason, so we had chili mac from the Paulina market instead. It’s not Steak’n’Shake, nor the Spaghetti Factory – apparently, Scandinavians can’t put any spices in their chili – but it’s sufficient nourishment for now. After that, Daniel and I work on brunch preparations…
…but that’s a whole other letter that I’ll tell you about later, since I need to make a record of the recipe for future reference, in any event. Suffice to say, the easiest way not to think too hard or get too depressed about your absence on a day like today, it’s just to keep busy. And who knows? Maybe I’m putting a little aside in my retirement plan, too.
I’ll see you over there soon enough, honey. Until then, keep your eye out for us. We’ll talk later. Love you.