Cancer in my right brain didn't stop me from singing Messiah again this Christmas, and neither did cold and flu season! (Hallelujah!) It was a wonderful experience, singing two back-to-back performances in a full house. There is always a thrill listening to the orchestra begin with the overture, because it's usually when I'm thinking to myself, "Wow -- I'm really still here, and I'm really going to sing this again!" The first choral piece is "Glory to God", and I use that as a last little warmup and check of my voice. Usually my first aria follows shortly thereafter: "O Thou, That Tellest Good Tidings to Zion". I sing it, thinking of the good tidings of the Savior's birth, and all that it means for us. And I am reminded of the good tidings that I have enjoyed during another year of miracles. My next aria was "He Shall Feed His Flock Like a Shepherd," and ever since I was diagnosed with cancer and began worrying about my two children I gained a new appreciation for the words:
He shall feed his flock like a shepherd, and he shall gather the lambs with his arm.
And carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.
A soprano follows, singing:
Come unto him, all ye that labor
Come unto him, ye that are heavy laden, and he will give you rest.
Take his yoke upon you and learn of him
For he is meek and lowly of heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
(Amen. I've enjoyed that rest. I've also enjoyed being gently led through life along with my "young".)
Toward the end my husband and I sing a duet: "O Death, Where is Thy Sting?" I try not to make it sound like a challenge, but rather an acknowledgement that the Messiah takes the sting out of anything we face in mortality. There is a choral response that is often left out of performances, so I have only heard it in recordings:
But thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory through our Lord, Jesus Christ.
I know people who have lost loved ones, or who have suffered other tragic events close to Christmas time. My own cancer diagnosis came about two weeks before Christmas, and I wondered if that would taint the holiday for us. But I later realized that Christmas was a fitting backdrop for any life experience -- happy or sad. Because Christmas is a celebration of the birth of the One who gives us victory over sin and mortality. He is "ris'n with healing in his wings."
Christmas has been wonderful this year, not only because of the two prior Christmases that I thought might be my last, but also because I have been able to share it with so much family. All of my brothers came to visit with their families, and it was so fun to be together again. Our last time all together like this was in Manhattan during Thanksgiving 2006. It's nice to have family gathered around for non-funeral occasions! (I hope we have more!)
We'll soon be ushering in the new year. Each new day feels miraculous, and seeing another year roll around is even more exciting. I hope I see the ball in Times Square drop many more times, and I hope I get to kiss my husband each time it does.
Reflecting on the year that has passed, and on all of the years that preceded it, I think of the words from one of the songs in Michael McLean's The Forgotten Carols:
All I ever wanted, all I ever dreamed of,
Everything I hoped, and all the things I prayed for
Couldn't hold a candle to what I've been given;
I've been given what I need.