Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A Descant to the Song of Life

This has been the most magnificent week. Just magnificent. I signed a contract for my book on Sunday. I have to be finished by June 1 and then sit back and wait while others worry about typefaces and covers.

The weekend started for me when my daughters and granddaughters and I went to the Dallas Farmers Market together on Saturday. It was just one of those relaxing afternoons where we didn’t spend a lot of money, didn’t eat too much, didn’t walk around too much.

Then we bought hotdogs for Sunday’s lunch from our favorite butcher shop, Rudolph’s on Elm Street in downtown Dallas. They make the old fashioned kind of hot dogs where they’re strung together by the casing. I love to tell the my girls the story of about thirty-five years ago when I left my checkbook at home by accident and the guy at the counter said he would put my purchases aside until I returned with the checkbook. He asked me my name so he could write it on the package. When he heard “Els” he went into a festival of recognition and glee that he had served the Els family for three generations and I should take the meat with me because he knew he could trust me to bring the money. There’s a new owner now but they still have the same friendly attitude toward all their customers. Shopping at this store is so much more than just buying meat.

Then that night I went to the Taize service at the church and sat between two of the best singers in our congregation. It was almost like having my own personal choir. Liz Harris-Kay, sitting on my left, sang a descant to one of the songs. I don’t know enough about music to know how she did this, whether she improvised or if there were notes to tell her what to do, but it was just beautiful.

The effect of a descant is thrilling; according to Wikipedia, “it gives the curious impression of an ethereal choir joining in the worship below; and those who hear it for the first time often turn and look up at the roof!" It’s kind of a variation on the melody, a little bit different but fitting into the main tune in a way that enhances the whole experience. It always reminds me a little bit of what it might be like to have an angel join us for part of the song.

I was at a funeral once where the deceased had a niece in attendance who has an accomplished singing voice. During one of the hymns there came a voice as if from heaven singing the descant in an astonishingly crystal clear voice. Where others were surprised, I knew it was Linda Evans offering a last goodbye to Kitty. Not everyone gets her own angel to sing at their funeral but Kitty Thomas did that day.

By the time we’re adults most of us have lost some of the shyness at having a talent. After a while we come to know when we’re good at something and are usually happy enough to share that talent with others and without any false modesty. It’s an acceptance of a gift from God and an offering back to God. Liz and Linda enjoy using their voices to provide a good musical experience. It’s a ministry to them.

We can have the nonmusical version, too. When somebody takes a familiar theme and does their own version of it, personalizes it in a way that makes the whole gift better than it would be alone. A variation on the melody of life, you might say.

The most wonderful, satisfying gift I got this Mothers Day was a descant of sorts, the non-musical kind. The variation of a tune, lifted high above the rest of the noise; the angel-voice adding to the music in a way that complemented and enhanced the music….even though sound wasn’t really involved. This descant was sung without music.

It was a short little note Emily posted to my face book wall on Mothers Day: “Five things that remind me of my mom: daffodils, red convertibles, Mississippi, Leo the Late Bloomer and bluebonnets.”

I stared at the five things she picked from her memory bank. I knew the story behind each one. I knew what went through her mind as she picked them. And I knew that she knew what went through my own mind when I thought of them.

Emly gets me.

This is my youngest, the flighty one, the one who once conned me into writing her a $7 check for “just being cute.” She can’t remember where her car keys are. She never knows her bank balance. But she gets me. She hears my descant. And I can hear her composing her own. It will be beautiful.

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