We Know This Song
About three months ago, I went to visit my grandmother in her hospice care facility, in a room she shares with a stranger. The week before, I sang to her all the hymns I could think of—the old Lutheran standbys from the green hymnal of my childhood. “I Love to Tell the Story,” “Beautiful Savior,” and of course, “Amazing Grace.” My grandmother’s father sang in the good old days of WHO radio in Des Moines, sharing the airwaves with a little-known sports announcer named Ronald Reagan. We have a recording of my great-grandfather singing in the big Lutheran church downtown. He possessed a beautiful baritone; my grandmother possessed a nearly perfect sense of pitch. I possess neither, but the rhythms of music seem to inflect and infuse every creative thing I do.
I didn’t think I could sing. To tell the truth, I didn’t even try. I sat next to my grandmother’s bed in the quiet of a Sunday evening, expecting companionable silence. And then, out of nowhere, a powerful urge filled me. All I wanted was to crawl into bed next to her, as if I was a child again. The urge was so strong, but there was no possible way I could. So I settled for an awkward leaning: clutching her hand with my head next to her body. And for a while I remained there, bent over in my chair, listening to our ragged breathing.
Every few months I lead worship for three nursing homes in town. And I can’t honestly say I enjoy it. My perfectionism get the best of me. I never speak loudly enough. I’m always trying not to bump into wheelchairs while I serve communion, and frankly, it’s difficult to see people physically decimated by illness and deterioration. I don’t enjoy it, but I’m often grateful for it. Two weeks ago, a woman who usually sleeps through worship with her mouth wide open did something I’d never seen her do before. While we sung “The Old Rugged Cross” her mouth began to move. She knew the words. She knew the words by heart.
In and out, pause and continue, rest and rhythm. From the first heartbeat to the last, we know this music. We know this song.