Christmas Gifts: Singing at the V.A. Hospital

Last night my son and I visited the local Veterans Administration Hospital to give a holiday concert with others from church. So cliche … but I cried, I laughed, I counted my blessings.

Driving to the church to meet up with folks to carpool to the V.A., I was dead beat. It’s been a long and weary week, and I had a grumpy kid in the back seat. We chowed down on a quick bite to eat at church, and I had to rip the kid away from his pals, who were all playing tag and having a good ole time running around the Common Room. “I don’t want to go to the concert, Mom!”

“Tough. We’re goin,” I grumbled, adding, in a pathetic attempt to put on a happy front, “Oh, it’ll be fun!!”

So we drove two and a half miles through the frozen, dark streets to the hospital. Once there we felt awkward and just stood around the recreation room waiting for the concert while the more outgoing parishioners mingled with the vets. There weren’t enough seats, so my five foot tall ten-year-old sat on my lap. He’s a little heavy for that kind of thing, but it was so cozy and nostalgic holding him like that for so long. Then the music began.

After a few opening numbers and a couple of readings, we sang Silent Night. That’s when I saw a gentleman in a bright blue sweater off to the right in the front row. He had taken out a handkerchief and was dabbing at his eyes. The woman next to him got out her hankie. Then I lost it. And darn, no hankie! It was such a quiet moment, though, all of us together singing an old tune like that. Made me feel like I was a part of something bigger. I missed my dead Grandma and my other family members far away in California. I knew these patients missed their loved ones, too. Yet … silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright.

Then during Hark the Herald Angels Sing the guy stretched out flat on a gurney in the far corner of the room began laughing. An odd laugh, not connected to anything in particular. He just would burst forth wth a hardy ha ha ha ha and then stop. I remembered what our little friend from church who rode to the concert with us had warned my son. “Some of these people don’t have brains that work right. But don’t be scared of them. They really like us coming to sing for them!” Smart kid.

Later, when the Religious Education Director was reciting The Night Before Christmas and got to the part when it says Santa laughed and had a belly that shook like a bowl full of jelly…she waved to the man on the gurney (cause let’s face it — we were all waiting for him to come in on cue), but he wasn’t about to laugh when expected πŸ™‚ The entire room burst into hysterics. Then the man laughed after the next line and the Assistant Minister, who was sitting next to him, patted him nicely on the knee.

I gotta say that although this man’s laugh was disconcerting at first, after a while I grew to appreciate the way it broke through everything, interrupting us, reminding us of the importance of mirth. Joy to the World. Here, here! I saw him after the concert, and he was smiling widely at everyone. Then another man flagged me down and tried to give me his “canteen voucher books” — he was so filled with gratitude that he wanted to give back something, and that was what he had. I just smiled and said he should keep them. Moving across the room a little further, I was grabbed on the elbow by a man a man who whispered in my ear, “Angels came to me last night and told me that God was blessing every one of you coming here tonight.”

Indeed. I believe in God. I believe in love and that is what God is to me. And I saw God last night at the V.A. Crying, laughing, loving.


6 Responses

  1. “Indeed. I believe in God. I believe in love and that is what God is to me. And I saw God last night at the V.A. Crying, laughing, loving.” πŸ™‚

    Great post and so wonderful for you to do. You nearly got me crying as I read this.

    Thank you for sharing.

  2. You’re welcome, strugglingwriter. I know it may sound shmaltzy to some, but it was an amazing experience.

    Take care and thanks, as always, for stopping by. You’re my most consistent visitor πŸ™‚

  3. This gave me shivers. Our church does this for our local city mission. We bring gifts, cookies and put on a program for the residents. They are so appreciative and full of hope and thankfulness.

  4. Yeh, it’s amazing to experience such enormous gratitude for such little effort on our part. Puts things in perspective!

  5. What a fascinating account. I can hardly wait to read more! I’ve signed up for the feed for your blog today!

    Dedicated Elementary Teacher Overseas (in the Middle East)

  6. Eileen,

    Sorry not to reply sooner — I’ve been out of the country! I look forward to reading your blog and hearing your stories as well!

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