A song in the Night Air
by Mike Oliver
Paul moved silently past the decorated homes. A thousand Holy Infants were born to a thousand different mangers in a thousand different front yards. The streetlights flashed red and green in the spirit of the season, and though the stars should have shown stark against the evening sky, even they struggled to rise above the fabricated glow. Paul had to squint to find the Old North Mother.
A bell rang out in a rusty peel: midnight. Paul was late.
Paul crossed against the warning red of an outstretched hand, rushed but not hurried. The church would be full, even Catholics who spend Easter Sunday’s at the buffet attend at Christmas, and Paul knew he would have no trouble slipping unseen into the back and leaning on his hands against the wall. There was something inherently childlike about this mass – it felt more local, less committal. And Paul knew the lyrics to all the songs. Everybody did. So, everybody sang.
In the distance, at first so soft it sounded like a hum, Paul could hear the peaks and valleys of the organ. And finally, he could hear the church and make out the words.
“Oh Sing all ye angels, sing in exaltation…”
People were still arriving in groups of twos and threes, fours and fives, friends and strangers (and near-strangers.) Paul slid up the freshly shoveled steps amongst a young couple and their gaggle of puffy-coated toddlers. The children buzzed with wide-eyed excitement, for them the mass was something new, a gift – a chance to see the side of the world hidden from the day. An elderly, avian woman remained singing as she shook Paul’s hand offering him a hymnal sheet. Paul refused with a smile. No need, he thought. Save the paper.
Paul did not know the meaning of these lyrics, though he had sung them many times, but he liked their sound – the shape they made in his mouth.
The final note of the organ echoed through the vaulting space – filling it. A community was met in the dead of night – filling it with life. Men and women from all corners, from this town (and beyond) had moved in what seemed like a secret to be with one another on this night – on this new day.
Paul thought of the incoming New Year, and of the year curtailing: he wasn’t unhappy, yet he was far from satisfied. A yearly hallmark always seemed to stir up the sediment of lost possibilities.
The priest rose, echoed by the crowd, and then spoke…and, for a moment, everyone listened.