Christine Rhyner

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Learning to Sing the Song of Winter
12/10/2017 by: Christine

I never felt that I was any good at singing the song of winter. It’s the melody that warms a heart and meets the unspoken needs of the terribly ill. The ones who live out a cold, gray season of life that may be their last…

It always seems there are others around who are natural born singers or who have trained voices to grasp this tune in ways I can’t.

I think it’s about four. A young kindergartener, the teacher decided that Christian Bayer—a boy with a blonde crew cut and the littlest of upturned noses—and myself were small enough to fit into tiny clown costumes. Wriggling myself into play clothes I imagined we had been chosen to kick off a fun game.

Instead, we were led into the back of a white van with boarded back windows. We grasped at the slippery, metal floor of the van on all fours, trying not to get flung around like laundry in a clothes dryer and just stared at each other.

Then a room with multiple beds where all else melts away but one upon which lays an old, old woman with the blackest of hair spread into white pillows. She extends a long, hooked finger from which a talon-like fingernail pierces the air, and crooks it further to beckon me close. As she does she leans forward, her waxy face tight-lipped. My head says no but my feet obey, inching forward. 

At the edge of the bed I stop, heart pounding. The finger points to a clear, glass jar on a table filled with hard, round red candies. The finger urges me to take. I shake my head silently. If I do what she wants, I will catch her disease and die.

And then another room. I see a boy in a bed placed horizontally in the room. An adult tells me he can’t hear, see, or speak, yet I am to “cheer him up” nonetheless. And off goes the adult.

I spot a small window that meets the ceiling. I stare at it a moment as if there is an answer in the wan light filtering through. Then, in a soft voice I begin to sing a child’s song. But the music stops, stuck in my throat by a feeling that it’s just too hard to continue. The boy, not a real boy does not budge, but remains as still as one of my dolls thrown on the floor after I tire of it.

And using this unexpected script from a day in the life of four, the stage was set for the enemy to make me frightened of the dying, to recoil from the inevitability of mortality. To feel utterly HELPLESS.

And pretty much, that’s the way it’s been. Others sing the song and I am the backup who lets out an occasional “whoot” or “hey hey.” Until—I recently felt a sense of urgency to see a childhood friend who dropped off social media. But I could not find anyone to tell me what happened or where she might be. Until—while close to her new residence on a trip, I stumbled upon a months old message on my phone from her sister with a phone number.

That’s strange...No, that’s GOD leading me on.   

I drive through miles of corn fields, peanut farms and acres of tobacco plants, a church it seems for every twenty residents, to REMOTE. I stop at a large-chain supermarket for flowers. One bunch in the entire place. But they’re beautiful, and just for my friend.

God is good!

I wander the halls of a rehab in search of her and meet her roommate—a woman of advanced years who says my friend hasn’t had a visitor for a long time. And my heart aches. It isn’t that she isn’t loved. But distance separates her from family. Some probably do not even know where she is or what has happened. Others may not want to sing this song of twilight that leaves them with a chill in their bones and a barrenness tough to plod through. I am in no position to judge.

And I enter through the open door, steeling myself for what I might see and—shock. But, she’s my age.

Immediately, I struggle to understand slurred speech that is soft and high pitched.

I ask questions left unanwered or that she begins to, but trail off into silent gazes in the distance. It may be the arrival of more strangers that only she can see, but she tells me they are nice because I ask about them.

No vase, container or ice bucket for her flowers, so I run out into REMOTE to get one only to discover there is no place but her food tray to place it. No chair for a visitor so I sit on her bed. A large, white pill rests on her hospital gown and I wonder about it.

She says she is so thirsty, always thirsty and asks for her cup. But the large blue cup has her roommate’s name on it and for her there is none. I run to find one. The only water, lukewarm from a not-so-clean sink. When I see her having trouble holding the cup, I hold it for her until she drinks her fill.

She asks if I will hold her hand, and I do.

A hot dog in a bun smothered in ketchup, beans and coleslaw arrives and I am upset. How can one gain strength in a wasted body and heal on this junk?

She refuses to eat. Eventually she tries to lift a utensil but can’t. She wants iced tea and sugar-free cookies I brought, so I break off child-size bites of wafers and place them in her mouth and hold a straw to her lips. With each bite and sip she says it is good.

I can’t leave! But I want to bolt.

She scoops at the coleslaw and tries to navigate it towards her mouth. Some lands on her nose and cheeks though she doesn’t seem to notice. I wipe her clean with baby wipes.

And then she looks at me and begins to sing. A song from a lifetime ago, one that I recognize, yet I cannot at all remember now. And we sing softly together for less than half a minute. And she smiles.

My heart breaks that I have to go—far away. She asks for a hug and with care and restraint for the fragility of a person who no longer reaches out but needs others to reach in I try. I pet dry, crepey skin and smooth back tangled hair, look into her eyes and tell her I love her. And I never said that to my friend before. But she says she loves me back.

From the age of four to this visit I’d never tried to sing the song of winter alone. But the Lord showed me it’s not as complicated a tune as the enemy falsely led me to believe. Though the serpent gloated for a long time over unfortunate four, over a quarter of a century later the Lord ‘turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire…He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.’

It’s been in me…

Driving away from REMOTE, for every three or four neat houses along the highway sits a dead one—roof sagging into what should be a welcoming front door with a wreath, smashed windows--relics of dwellings that once were new, where people lived and no doubt hoped and dreamed. And God confirmed in my spirit through these wasted homes that among tidy, neat people there are many living winter, especially as I get older and those around me do too. But churches abound, though many seem silent, vacant. Yet here I am, the church. I am to sing the song of the wasted, crushed, broken. And though I might not perform an amazing melody, God has always wanted me to hand over that old tape caught in a loop and sing His new song. And it’s not too hard. And, I pray there will be someone to sing the song of winter to me one day.

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Debra From Westbury At 8/3/2016 6:20:23 PM

Christine this is such a beautiful way to describe how God touched your heart and hers through you to bring some peace and healing in both of your lives. Agape love????

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