My grandpa is a Methodist minister and every Christmas Eve we headed to his church to see him deliver the candlelight service. The church was always so beautiful with poinsettias and candles and the lights dim. Everyone dressed up for this very special night. I have many memories of my Grandfather in his robes telling the Christmas story as I fidgeted in the pew. Asking my mom if I could go pee or asking my dad if he had an extra Halls cough drop. I'd draw pictures on the offering envelopes with a pencil I found in my mom's purse and I'd pull at my tights as they got saggy and uncomfortable. But there was a part of the service that was worth all of the waiting I had to put in for it. The very last part. They would turn the lights off and each person held a small candle and we sang without music, the song Silent Night. I remember so clearly how beautiful it was. How it moved me to tears even as a young girl. I felt connected to my family and my heart would swell as a lump rose in my throat. I remember asking my mom once why I cried when we sang Silent Night. Because I really didn't grasp why it made me cry. And she told me that it was because when we sing, we feel things deeper. That it was a gift that some people are given. To feel. It made me feel special when she told me that. Even if my brothers made fun of me for it.
My grandpa retired from his church years ago and I was there when he gave his final telling of the Christmas story at his last Christmas Eve service. It nearly overwhelmed me when we sang Silent Night. Knowing it was the last time. My heart breaking and feeling the loss that this part of my life, this gift, was to be archived and logged away as a memory. A memory of my grandpa that I cherish and miss. See, my grandpa is very special. The most special. I'm not saying that your grandpa isn't. Just that mine really really is. His heart is enormous and he doesn't have a mean bone in his body. He loves everyone. He hates no one. He loves rainbows and kids. He is patriotic but never dismissive of dissent or protest. He sings with a rich baritone and his hugs will melt you. He is a hero to me. I don't call people heroes for just being good people either. And it has been such a blow these last few years to see his health be slowly taken. It is a part of this life and I know that. But I want to keep him forever. I want him to always tell me stories of when he was in the Navy and about his heritage and talk baseball and football, politics and spirituality with him. I want to always hear this silly little song that he used to sing to me when I was little, "A little bone um bone. Diddily dee, diddilly", he'd sing. None of us grandchildren really knew the words he was singing. That was just my best guess. I want to sit in his lap again and ask him for the hundredth time to tell me the story of the USS Indianapolis or the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. I want to go back and listen to his records of Broadway musicals and sing along. I want to once again be laying with my head on his lap watching the free concert that Simon & Garfunkel gave in Central Park. I want to go back to do all of these things with the understanding of how special they would be to me. Knowing that I needed to soak them all in.
So when I got a message from my cousin that my grandpa had been asked to deliver the Christmas Eve service this year, I knew that nothing could keep me from being there. Because it means I get to go back and sing Silent Night by candlelight with my grandpa one more time. Even though it means splitting up our family on Christmas Eve, with Daddy and Mr. Pants in one place and Ms. Plum and me in another, it will be ok. When my beloved grandfather looks out into the congregation during what is certain to be his last time, he will see me among the many, smiling back. And while I will not be wearing white tights or a fancy Christmas dress, Ms. Plum will. And she will see her great grandpa in his robes telling the Christmas story. And someday I will be able to tell her how important that night was to me. And I will explain to my babies why we light candles and sing Silent Night before we go to bed on Christmas Eve. And if they cry, I will tell them that it is a gift.