All Saints Shiny Things

Following the sugar demon-filled rush of Halloween and the festivities of El Dia de Los Muertos, there’s a less fun day which everyone tends to forget because the only booze they serve at it is communion wine. It’s easy to overlook, when Halloween is all things to all people, and All Saints’ Day means something very specific to only some people. If you call yourself a Christian, its a far bigger deal than it ever gets credit for.

To be a Christian is to have a strange love-hate relationship with death. We spend our lives striving to avoid it, as humans do, but also because we have stuff to be done and missions to be carried out in that time. At the same time, we don’t fear it. We can even find the peace and courage to, not so much look forward to it, but to accept it when it finds us.

Of course, that also extends to those who death finds first.

We do not mourn as those who have no hope. All those who have gone before us are among the millions of saints we will meet in eternity someday; and while I don’t know if they watch over and guard us physically, I can say for certain that they got where they were going, and are doing good. They’re with Jesus right now. We don’t have to waste time worrying about them.

That doesn’t mean we don’t miss them, or remember them, or wear their pretty things in memorium on the days that matter.

My grandmother was dying. She knew it, we all knew it, and the doctors were past telling us there was anything left they could do about it. My great-aunt had come from Oklahoma to stay with us, and I had moved into the house, too. It was all hands on deck, and almost cozy, if not for the heavy knowledge that time was running out.

Grammy was busy with what she was always busy with: getting things ready for the family. Whatever she truly felt about her cancer, the most she ever exhibited was annoyance and impatience. A sense of, how dare it get in her way and generate all this extra stuff to be done. At least her sister, children, and grandchildren had rallied around her to share the burdens.

I was sitting with my grandmother and great-aunt at the living room table — a table which now sits in my kitchen, half-buried under reusable bags and boxes of sparkling water. We were going together through a lifetime’s worth of jewelry, reminiscing over the origin of each piece, and letting Grammy choose carefully which of her daughters or granddaughters they should go to. There was a jewelry box for each one of us, one of hers, because of course her love of sparkles could never be contained to a single box of any shape or size. All the boxes were filling up nicely with all manner of treasures.

I picked a pair of simple, elegant studs out of the vast pile and looked carefully at them. They were genuine opal! A real find, among what was mostly bold, chunky, happy fashion jewelry. Of course I knew she had really nice things; I had expected them to be set aside somewhere… Special.

“These are gorgeous,” I said, admiring them as the stone lit up in the light. “They remind me of my mother’s opal studs. You gave her those, didn’t you, Grammy?”

Grammy held out her hand. “Let me see those.”

I placed them in her hand, and she squinted vaguely at them. Maybe she had forgotten all about them and couldn’t quite place them. Then she handed them off to her sister.

“Pat, put these in the Emily pile,” she instructed. “But don’t tell Emily.”

I was eight years old, and church was still alright, I guess. It wouldn’t be for much longer; but at the time, it was home. It was the church I had been baptized in, had grown up in, and was the only social interaction with people my own age I really got. Don’t feel too bad for me; I liked it that way. People my own age have always gotten on my nerves a bit.

My parents were choir members, so after Sunday school I would sit outside the choir room to wait for them. This was standard practice, and had been for years. Often, I would find myself waiting with Miss Lottie, a retired choir member, who just enjoyed sitting outside and listening to them rehearse. Miss Lottie and I were on opposite ends of church choir: I, the precocious child looking forward to the far-off day when I would join them, and she the matriarch who looked back on those long-ago days fondly.

I’ve always had a passion for classical music and concert performance. Much of it began in the church choir loft, sitting with one or other of my parents, drenched in complex harmonies and old words. They had done Handel’s Messiah for 1991’s Christmas cantata; when I was born in 1992, much of the work had been sung into my DNA long before I knew that the music came out of a book I had never not recognized.

Miss Lottie seemed to recognize this, and she always appreciated it. I liked her because she never spoke to me like I was just a silly child, like most people spoke to the other kids at church. Miss Lottie spoke to me like I could understand things. She always spoke to me like another human being with a brain that can think grand things. We had a lot of pleasant conversations, waiting outside the choir room for the service to start.

She often wore this one necklace. A big gold medallion on a long chain, reminiscent of the 70s. She could have had it for as long, I now realize. It’s loud and obnoxious, but also incredibly elegant. It’s a piece that goes with so many decades, colors, haircuts, and styles of music.

One Sunday, I remarked how much I liked that necklace. “It’s really pretty,” I must have said. “It makes me happy every time I see it.”

“Oh? Well, here you go, sweetie.”

And before I really knew what had happened, she had pulled the medallion off and pushed it into my hands. I had never been given a gift from someone who wasn’t family before. I remember not being sure which was the right thing to do: politely accept the present, given in love, or politely insist that I shouldn’t take her belongings. I had never been so confused and delighted at the same time.

I’ve worn Miss Lottie’s medallion on more occasions than I can recall. It’s a must for anything 70s or 80s. Its loud and obnoxious for summer outfits, and elegant with Christmas attire. It’s a good piece for just about anything.

Even funerals.

I wore it to hers, not terribly long after she gave it to me. Because of that, I also wear it for Ash Wednesday, Holy Week, and — of course— All Saints’ Day.

I’m a soprano in my church choir, now. We joined a different church when I was 14, an age our former choir master refused to trust with so much work and responsibility. At our new church, the first order of business was getting involved with the choir. And when I asked if I could come, too, I was welcomed immediately with open arms.

I’ve never looked back. Taken breaks, wandered a bit, certainly. But the choir loft is my home, and always will be.

We made a bold move this year. Rutter’s Requiem is not an easy piece to master; but after a month of rehearsals and individual study, our tiny church choir was able to offer it in a special All Saints’ service.

This was not a performance. Nor was it a concert. It was service. An offering of our time and talents to God, in remembrance of those who have joined Him ahead of us.

The Bible tells us that to God, a heartfelt prayer is like incense; and it is said that he who sings prays twice. The Requiem — a mass for the dead — is absurdly comforting to me, as we sing, requiem eterna, dona eis domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis, quia pius es.

Grant them eternal rest, give them might, and let perpetual light shine upon them, for You are merciful.

Sounds like Heaven to me. The same heaven I’ll find Grammy and Lottie and everyone else waiting to welcome me someday.

Maybe when that day comes, some other little girl will sing to God for the everlasting light of His mercy to shine on me in eternity. Maybe she’ll be wearing the same gold medallion and opal earrings I wore today, singing the same prayer while thinking of the women who watered my faith.

Just sitting here, making waves… #ramblingrose