“Number 19 please” is the hymn request that the pastor repeated so that everyone in the church/lunchroom could hear. Then, he purposely paused as he eyed the twelve square tables used for church seating, these were also used for crafts, bingo and when pushed aside, for chair exercises.
His kindness was intertwined with his mistaken impression that it was important to keep on schedule. The pause was to make sure everyone had found the correct song. Louise, who sat at the first table by the door with her roommate Elaine, was radiant with joy. I don’t use this as a metaphor – her joy, smile, enthusiasm and welcoming outstretch of her arms was real and palpable. You couldn’t take your eyes off of her. Dressed plainly but in perfect order, she belied her 87 years! Waiting for the packed room to catch up, she said “This is my favorite song, my favorite!” Others needed help from the nursing assistants, while others didn’t need the help because everyone knew they wouldn’t be following the verses of the paper covered song book – Dementia, to be sure, but also hearing and seeing impediments. Some were laying back in their ‘wheelchairish’ beds. Some knew they were attending church at Courtland Rehabilitation and Nursing Center. Some did not know they were at church or Courtland. Everyone knew ‘who was who’ until the singing…worshipping began with “Number 19 please.” I couldn’t figure out why Louise was at Courtland. Was she visiting?
Donald was in a wheelchair. I never heard him speak in a regular manner, nor did he respond to yes or no questions. But, he would accommodate any requests with a gentle look, opening his eyes which were most often shut. I wondered whether he was asleep, but I came to know that he was resting in a peacefulness which was certainly coming from somewhere deep inside. Sometimes, he looked like a contented statue.
The pastor knew all the words to “Number 19” and he led us into it. Donald didn’t change positions one twiddle. He didn’t open his eyes when he began to sing a little bit louder then softly. I tilted my head toward him to see WHAT he was singing, or rather IF he was ‘singing’ at all (or just speaking). He was, in fact, singing – word for word with a tiny sway although you sometimes couldn’t actually see it – I believe all verses, although I’m not totally sure, confusing myself amidst my surprise and delight. He was not alone. A few folks (four or five) worshipped in a similar fashion. All my faith filled moments added up together didn’t match the moving of the Holy Spirit, who was surely swirling in our beings during that period of time.
The pastor was asked, “What next?” He replied, “How about 62?” Sure, why not – Louise found it quickly and lit up again – so moving that you wanted to be her student forever. She said, “This is my favorite song, my favorite.” She had forgotten every word of “Number 19.”
“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound…”