The tiny soloist was singing to a man she loved– when the music stopped. Something had gone wrong with the keyboard behind her and the musician, her mother, groped to find the problem. So, in the hushed room, the singer, a little girl with a bow in her hair, went on alone—her voice strong and clear.
I wasn’t the only one in that church who wondered if the little girl could finish. She was singing to a man everyone loved, Ray Sanders, who with his wife Becky, operated a Christian child care center. The girl had been one of their clients. He died this month after a long fight with cancer
Rebecca said Ray was a fun-loving man with a boundless sense of humor. Who else would be cited for a comic crime—littering? As a rambunctious teen, he had left his comic books on the riverbank while he swam. A zealous policeman wanted to make an example of him. In Gasquet, nobody Mickey-Moused with the law.
Even I saw the larceny in him. I had written a play about two flim-flam men trying to swindle old people in a retirement home. In “Make Mine Metamucil,” he had convinced elderly ladies they had talent worthy of Broadway. The part fit him like a pinstripe suit.
The real Ray was more loving, everybody’s brother—everybody’s angel.
So there was lots of pressure on the little singer in the church service, more than I could have handled–ever. Remember, I was the bumbling, mumbling anchorman. I once looked at a guest’s name-tag and said, “What’s your name, Susan?
But no one would blame that little girl. It happens to all of us, dependent on rhythm and rhyme to carry us through. I have been dependent—or thought I was. My mother, then my wife Nina—both gave me the backbeat I needed to find my way. And how hard it is when the music is gone.
Maybe others doubted the little girl at Ray’s celebration. Maybe they wondered if she had the power to finish. I didn’t. Not for a second. Call it the hidden force that watches over us, the rhythm that is there if we listen.
Call me crazy, but I felt that force the day I lost my Nina. I have felt it ever since. And I may have greatly changed as a result. Or maybe not at all. I thought I couldn’t live without the music of college teaching. But then the music died. I felt the same about TV news. That’s gone too.
If only I could swim a mile or run a marathon as I had so often in my youth. Not now. And yet, I am still here, and still joyful. That’s because none of that—the running or the TV, was the rhythm I really needed. It is something else. A five-year old singer reminded me of that.
Verses later, the music came back. The keyboard was working again. The voice—the little girl’s voice, had been there all along, right on beat, right on key.
“Sorry about the flub,” someone said after the service. No, it was no accident. There was no flub. There was something for which I am so thankful this Thanksgiving.
I thank the people with whom I have shared life—my mother, my Nina, and Ray and Becky Sanders. I forgive him for leaving his comic books on the riverbank.
And finally, I thank the little singer who reminded us that she was not alone. None of us ever is.