Olive, December 15
It had been a particularly difficult week. Harrowing actually, getting the remaining Christmas gifts wrapped, adding final touches to the twenty-four homemade gifts I’d prepared for neighbors and friends, putting wrapping debris in some semblance of order where they’d been recklessly strewn (for two weeks) on my office floor. There was the school program, our church small group Christmas party, caring for a new kitten, keeping watch over Uncle Pete who’d recently moved in with us to undergo cancer treatment. And I was keeping tabs on the volatile winter storm that I’d presumably be flying through en route to Shreveport from Mississippi the next week, and . . . .
In the midst of all my holiday mayhem, I had completely forgotten the standing monthly appointment I had with the elderly of our nearby nursing home: playing piano for their monthly hymn sing. What?! It had just simply escaped my mind in the midst of my massive muddle. Poof! Gone! And, to boot, that particular gathering was to be their Christmas sing!
I had not even realized I’d missed the event until the following Monday, a week after when quickly scanning my calendar. My heart clinched and dropped into my stomach as a sharp pain of regret pierced my heart. Quickly following was a heavy weight of guilt over my irresponsibility, and bare embarrassment. How could I have missed it?! It wasn’t like the appointment was a one-time gig; I had been playing piano at the home every month for a year!
Disbelief consumed me and I harshly chastised myself. I was incredulous: I missed the hymn sing! How could I have forgotten that?! And here at Christmastime—an extra special gathering for them!
Feeling horrible—really horrible—that I had let them down, I then considered the added disconcerting fact that no one in the home’s administration had even heard from me prior, nor on the event day, or since! I had been a blatant “no-show” without as much as a heads up to them or an apology afterward! The picture was looking graver in my mind by the seconds. I wanted the earth to consume me right then and there.
I envisioned the sluggish shuffling feet and humming wheelchairs as the residents had slowly but earnestly and eagerly made their way to the center’s lobby for their annual Christmas sing. Chairs would have been arranged near the giant Christmas tree reaching tall toward heaven from the center of the expansive lobby. The piano would have been moved nearer and the song leader . . . .
The song leader! Ugh. I’d let so many people down—and at Christmas of all times! It wasn’t like the residents got to go out dancing and singing in a whirl of Christmas parties. The Christmas sing would have been one of their greater joys in this season.
My insides were all crumpled up like ripped and discarded wrapping paper; I felt so badly about my gross oversight, so badly about all the implications that had shoved their way into my charring thoughts. I had been too busy, too busy, too busy, and consequently dropped the precious plate of giving to the residents’ Christmas joy.
I moped through the rest of the day and as soon as Ives walked through the door from work, I spewed, “I forgot the Christmas sing at the nursing home! It was last Friday! A week ago!” I screeched. “I feel terrible!” My shoulders slumped with the growing heaviness of my heart as I considered how my lapse of memory must have embarrassed my husband too—though it was strange he hadn’t mentioned anything about it in the past days. Ives worked at the nursing home, in administration, so he would have surely heard something from Marge, the volunteer coordinator, about my unexplained no show.
Ives and I then considered that it was odd that Marge hadn’t telephoned me on that day as everyone sat waiting for the pianist to arrive. A quarter past the hour of my absence, surely she would have called me and inquired, “Olive, are you on your way for the Christmas sing? The troops are gathered . . . .” Or with concern have asked, “Are you ill, Olive?”
All kinds of scenes played out in my head: all the elderly sitting there, waiting . . . . The song leader standing there, intermittently looking toward the door and joking nervously with the crowd about “our missing pianist,” thinking I’d pop in at any second with rushed apologies for being tardy. And I wondered how the rest of that hour had played out. Had the song leader eventually engaged the group in an a cappella hour, all the while wondering where I was, and even perhaps concerned that I’d been in an accident? Me simply forgetting such an important calendar event would not have come to their minds. I was—usually—dependable.
Strangely adding to the mystery, Ives had not heard a peep at work from Marge (or anyone else) about my absence that previous Friday, or the fact that I hadn’t even telephoned them, nor they me. Weird.
The next day, when Ives arrived home from work, he shared with me, perplexed, the conversation he had that morning with Marge. He’d shared with her, “Olive just realized last night that she’d missed the Christmas sing last Friday, and she feels awful about it. It had just slipped her mind somehow. She’s really sorry.”
“Oh, Olive had it worked out great!” Marge had piped cheerfully as she flitted about her office. Over her should she’d added, “The pianist she arranged to take her place did a fine job.”
Ives’ surprised look morphed into a blank stare, then confusion. “A replacement?” he asked, slowly shaking his head. “Olive didn’t arrange for a replacement . . . . She’d completely overlooked the date.”
That news stopped Marge in her tracks and her face mirrored his bewilderment. Question marks danced in the air between them to the piped-in Christmas tunes. “She didn’t arrange for the replacement?” Marge asked, tipping her head to one side in puzzlement, her brows furrowed and her mouth puckered into her thinking frown.
“No, it was just yesterday that she realized she missed the date, and told me about it last night. She’s really embarrassed and sorry she let everyone down.”
“Well . . . “ Marge pondered, surprise and confusion contorting her round features. “Then I wonder who that little blond gal was who showed up, right on time, sat down at the piano and played? I just assumed Olive had made arrangements for the pianist to take her place . . . .”
Hearing Ives’ report, I was riveted to silence. Then I reiterated in disbelief, “A little blonde just ‘showed up’ to play? And they didn’t know who she was? Or where she’d come from? And they thought I had made that arrangement?”
Ives nodded and reviewed, “Marge said they just assumed you had arranged for the pianist.”
We stared at each other, our thoughts trying to grasp the impossibility of the events as they had apparently played out, no one the wiser. What?! This is crazy! I ruminated. Who was “the little blonde” who had shown up? How could she have possibly known . . . .
Then a dawning realization took hold of me with great wonderment and excitement. My Christmas mishap was taking the shape of a real Christmas miracle! Could it be…? “They’d never seen her before?” I asked again, incredulous. “No one knew her?” Ives slowly shook his head as he caught hold of my thinking. I dared to voice, “Do you think it was . . . an angel?” The idea was fueling excitement in me that leaped over into Ives eyes and twinkled like little green Christmas lights. “Do you think God sent an angel—a real-life angel—to take my place, knowing I would forget the Christmas sing?”
“Could be . . . .” Ives smiled softly and gently pulled me into his arms.
A second later, I pulled back and looked up at him. “That’s the only explanation!” I squealed. Ives wasn’t prone to such displays and simply nodded in quiet consideration, still smiling at my excitement and the idea that we’d experienced God in such a miraculous manner. Again I summarized all the facts aloud to him, as if repeating them would absolutely confirm that we had indeed experienced a true Christmas miracle among us.
We stared at each other, smiling at the wonder, the divinity, the presence of God in the middle of my muddled Christmas season—His season. He, the God of Creation, the King of Kings, had proven once again how He cares for me, for Ives, for Marge, for the song leader, for all those elderly who’d no doubt been eager about their Christmas sing. Emmanuel, “God with us,” had taken my place once again when all my focus should have been on Him! He had filled the gap I had left in haphazard wake. The wonder of it! The gift! An angel! A real Christmas miracle among us.