At the end of the June story, Chlora has had a fretful evening
and wakes up in the middle of the night:
In the middle of the night, even in summer
it was a little cool under the ceiling fan
in Chlora’s dark room.
She could see the strobe of the fan
through her shut eyelids,
feel its throb in her ears.
She narrowed her eyes to peer through the dark.
The room was black
except for the glow-in-the-dark stars
stuck on the ceiling.
Thousands of shooting stars
circumnavigated the room.
She reached down for the folded quilt
and drew it up under her chin.
The cool blue satin edging was soothing.
Uninvited fantasies and unanswered prayers
circled the room
whipped up by the ceiling fan,
round and round they go, they blow.
Half asleep, the very soul expands,
she touched its perimeters,
and they extended themselves more,
were taken up into the fan, and
mix-mastered into all air of all souls.
The whirlwind reminded her of Job again
and Chlora fretted.
What if her own friends offered
nothing but false comfort?
What if, what if?
She noticed the fan’s gravitational pull
was more horizontal than downward
and maybe love worked the same way.
What was that other song Grandmother hummed
in the rocking chair?
Grandmother had said it was a song
for Trinity Sunday, which was coming up.
Chlora was skeptical of the Trinity.
Who invented it? It was God as a committee.
Everyone knows how well those committee meetings go.
Grandmother said the Trinity was just a doctrine
but it was a model of how to be in relationship.
She said this was a love song from the Trinity
but Chlora knew it was really by the Beatles.
Chlora repeated the last lines:
I will be there and everywhere
Here, there and everywhere
In that blessed assurance, Chlora fell asleep.
Today had been a day.
A day of magical flying over the town, losing and then finding her beloved teddy bear in the shadows,
feeling terrified of the trash can fire, and
breaking the rocking chair.
A day is a good thing to have.
In September, Chlora was bored in church:
They got out the hymnals to sing “Love Lifted Me.”
But only the visitors needed the lyrics
as everybody else had that one
memorized through years of repetition.
I was sinking deep in sin, far from the peaceful shore,
Very deeply stained within, sinking to rise no more,
But the Master of the sea heard my despairing cry,
From the waters lifted me, now safe am I.
Love lifted me!
Love lifted me!
When nothing else could help,
Love lifted me!
Where else but in church or in the shower
can people sing loudly?
The congregation gave it their best shot
and the poor hymn survived.
It reminded Chlora of that Raft of the Medusa
painting where the desperate survivors at sea
finally got rescued.
Some had already died and
the rest were starving cannibals
hanging on for dear life.
The organist played the last verse
of “Love Lifted Me” off key —
Why? Nobody knew—but none of them
could sing along.
It sounded like a moaning basset hound,
like a strangled peacock
trying to rattle the stained glass.
They all quit trying and the organist
artfully morphed into
“How Great Thou Art.”
Now that one was a waker-upper.
Nobody but the sopranos in the choir
could hit those high notes.
One over-trained mezzo-soprano
strained to hit the low, mournful notes,
and then she always came in overly strong
on the high ones, like she had to
swallow a large gulp of
air to hit it.
…I scarce can take it in…
It was a moving hymn with okay theology,
but lots of the old favorites
put some very bad ideas to music.
Their melodies were better than their
lyrics and those tunes just got into your bloodstream
and circulated until those hymns were
what kept the faithful going.
All the objections to new, liberalized hymnals
stemmed from the truth that those lyrics
were like osmosis in the spirit.
Who cared if they squawked it out?
The tunes were the true nourishment.
And on Christmas Eve, worship again involved the hymnal:
At the evening service, the congregation felt
a hunger to sing Christmas carols,
since they’d slogged through all the
dreary advent carols for all these weeks.
Chlora suggested “Frosty the Snowman.”
Instead, they got to turn open the hymnals
to the best section, used only once a year.
The Christmas carols had been put on ice
for Advent, and like the congregants,
they had had to just wait it out.
First everyone was roused
with “O Come All Ye Faithful,”
to remind them they were begotten,
not merely created.
Everything that really mattered flowed from that.
Out burst Harold the Angel singing hark!
Mercy mild…is mercy ever mild?
Then “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear”
when peace shall over all the earth,
its ancient splendors fling.
And Chlora’s personal favorite,
“O Little Town of Bethlehem” where the hopes and fears of all the years were met
in thee tonight.
“Joy to the World!”
A carol so happy
it made Chlora want to dance in a circle
like Matisse did, letting men their songs employ.
Nothing was better than “Joy to the World!”
except maybe “Let It Be,” which was not
a bonafide Christmas carol even though
it had better lyrics than most of them,
straight out of the first chapter of Luke.
They concluded the evening
with a candlelit rendition of
“Silent Night” in German,
the tenor of it perfectly fitting the quiet, dark
little painting by that Netherlandish picture
of the nativity where the baby’s body
radiated the light for the scene.
Since the church provided at least six hymnals
for every pew, they’d never miss one.
Chlora slipped one in her coat pocket.
It’d be helpful some day
when she needed to remember
who she was.