This Christmas began what I hope will become a new tradition for the Coffey house. On Christmas Eve, my daughter sat at the grand piano in the equally grand foyer of the local hospital. For forty-five minutes, she provided background music to the steady pulse of whispers and footsteps and intercom pages.
“Silent Night.” “Joy to the World.” “Away in a Manger.” The notes shaky at first, timid, only to gain in both confidence and volume as the moments drew on.
I sat with my son and wife on the worn leather sofa in the middle of the foyer. The perfect spot to listen and nod and smile in support. Also, the perfect spot to see what would happen when those songs of hope and joy were played in such a setting. To see a bit of light cast into such a darkened place.
We were alone for a while. There is a current to every public place, one that flows and meanders of its own accord regardless of what attempts are made to alter it. So we all settled in, us on the sofa and she at the keys, joining the crowd rather than ask the crowd to join us.
The automatic doors leading to the parking lot squeaked with a certain poetic regularity. The people who entered did so with a slow purpose, as if walking through molasses. Their arms ladened with ribboned bags overstuffed with gifts. Plastic smiles that sunk no deeper than the first layer of skin greeted us. Their thoughts were plain enough that I saw them well. It is Christmas, these people thought, and I am here—not at home, but here.
My daughter played: Let every heart/Prepare Him room.
In those small spaces where the elevators clustered, those coming in met those going out. These people, too, could not hide their thoughts. I watched as orderlies pushed the freed in wheelchairs as worn and tired as the smile on the patients’ faces. They were greeted at the doors by family members who rushed in from the circular drive just outside—rushed in, I thought, not to escape the cold, but to rescue their loved ones before some unknown doctor reconsidered the discharge order.
My daughter bolder now, smiling down at the ivory keys: And heaven and nature sing.
A nurse stopped on her way to some far-flung department to listen. An old man sat in the chair across from us, drawn there more by the music than the promise of comfort. The December sun glinted off the wall of windows in front of us. Puffy clouds raced overhead, molded into shapes by the wind. More people stopped—patients and visitors, security officers, doctors. Not for long and only to smile as those notes rang out (Round yon virgin, mother and child) before walking on with a nod and a smile.
And slowly, ever so gently, that current changed.
It was not diverted, nor could it have been. This was a hospital, after all. In such places where so much life mingles with so much death, the heaviness in the air is both constant and unchanging. And yet I saw smiles during my daughter’s recital, and I heard the hard sighs of comfort and the sound of applause.
And I knew then this great truth—we cannot heal what has been irrevocably broken. We cannot bring peace in a life where there will always be war, nor healing to a place fallen from grace. Such things are beyond our ability. We have no such power.
Yet even if we are powerless to change this world, we still have the power to nudge it a bit in the direction it should go. To bring joy to another, even for a moment. To inspire and lift up. To give hope.