I sing (loosely speaking) in the alto section of a local church choir. There are about 125 of us, but we split Sunday duty over three services, so rarely are we together as a group in anything but Thursday night rehearsal, which I haven't been attending all that faithfully of late. We all tend to know the others who sing in our sections at normal Sunday service times pretty well, but the altos who sing at 8 a.m. (like me) may only know the 9:30 a.m. altos in passing, and may not know the 11 a.m. basses at all. Which is what made today special.
Today there was a memorial service for the son of a fellow alto, one with whom I'm well enough acquainted to say "hello", but she's an 11 a.m.-er and I'm long gone by then. She's friendly, personable, and having stood next to her one year at the Christmas concert I know she sings in tune, but I don't really know her.
The choir director had asked for volunteers to sing at the memorial service, and I had dutifully signed up. But as the time drew near to head to the church for a pre-service warm-up, I wavered. I've got a busy week ahead at the office, and some catch-up work to do today... nobody will actually notice if I don't show up... she doesn't really know me....
Ultimately I heard my mother's voice in my head, telling me I had committed to be there, and whether anybody cared or not I should keep my promise. So I went.
As did virtually all the rest of us, from all sections, all service times. I haven't seen that many of my fellow choristers together since last Christmas. The look on the grieving mother's face when she entered the sanctuary and saw all of us... well, I knew I'd made the right choice.
I learned that my fellow alto's son had been a vibrant young chef at a ski resort in Idaho, with a passion for skiing and snowboarding before lymphoma cut his life short at age 39. I learned that she had endured not one, but two major losses -- first her husband, then her son -- in less than two years. The minister's words were comforting, the choir sniffled its way through "Be Thou My Vision" and "My Shepherd Will Supply My Need," and many of us lost it altogether when a pair of sopranos sang a breathtaking "Pie Jesus."
It was a lovely service, but more to the point, it was a collective moment of grace, an hour of my time that mattered a whole lot more than the office work I would have otherwise done this afternoon. To her... and to me.