Monday, March 29, 2010

Tell Me Why

Yesterday, the young mother who oversees my girls in "Activity Days" called to see if Karlie and Macy could go with a group of girls and women to serve dinner at the Bread of Life mission in town. Loaded up with baggies full of chopped onions and tomatoes (their contribution to the meal they would be serving), the girls hopped into their leader's car at 5 o'clock, excited to be on their way.

Activity Days is a program for girls ages 8 to 11 in our church. On any given Activity Day, they might make gingerbread houses, Father's Day gifts, memorize scriptures or learn to sew or sing harmony. Last summer, they came home with sparkly, star-spangled, ribbon-festooned flip flops they'd made themselves just in time for the 4th of July.

Upon their return last night, the girls tumbled out of their leader's car, yelled thanks and gave me a quick "hi!" as they bounced into the house. I thanked their leader for taking them and asked how it went. She said, "It was amazing. The girls were amazing. They did so good. They always do." I was surprised that she seemed really touched and quiet, rather than just upbeat and matter-of-fact.

Curious about her demeanor, I went into the house and asked if the girls had a good time. This was only the second time they'd fed the homeless in our community and I wondered if they felt that warm surge of lightness that seems to always accompany serving others. I remember - and still experience - the hesitation and nervousness I have felt when going into a situation where I'd be serving others less fortunate, ill or downtrodden; yet every time, there's that warm glow that makes me so glad I did.

I didn't want to color the girls' response to me, so I didn't say any of that. I simply asked them how it went. They said they'd had a good time, that it felt good to feed the people who were there. Then, they surprised me by saying, "We sang 'Tell Me Why'."

"Tell Me Why" is a sweet little old song that's been around forever. I taught it to the girls while we were driving around lost one night in northeastern Arizona. I wasn't worried, I knew we'd eventually find our way back onto the right route home. We just had time to kill as we drove around in the dark, so we started singing songs. I hadn't thought of the song in years until that night, but it was fun to teach them the words and try our hand at harmonizing.

I was surprised when Karlie told me they sang a duet last night, because I was forever trying to get the girls to sing to us. Sometimes they're all for it, other times they claim shyness. I understand - I do the same thing. I knew something must have moved the girls to prompt them to share the song with these struggling families and lonely individuals who take refuge at the mission. I thought how beautiful it must have been for those being served to sit at dinner, hearing these two little girls sing in their clear, sweet voices the simple words:

Tell me why the stars do shine
Tell me why the ivy twines
Tell me why the sky's so blue,
And I will tell you just why I love you.

Because God made the stars to shine
Because God made the ivy twine
Because God made the sky so blue,
Because God made you, that's why I love you.

I asked how the people responded. Macy said, "They really liked it." Karlie, in the nose-wrinkled, quizzical little tone she has patented replied, "Sister Stanton cried." Her tone clearly conveyed she wasn't sure why.

I knew why.

Because there's something about a child's voice lifted in song that touches the spirit, especially a lonely or aching spirit. A child's voice is a balm. There is a purity in those breathy, high, sometimes faltering notes that somehow conveys a downy softness and innocence that we don't often feel as adults. And it affects us.

I was reminded of the times our babysitter Oma would take my sister and me along with her church group to the "old folks' homes" in Ohio when we were little, so we could sing to the "old people." I was a little frightened of the ancient, bent over people in wheel chairs, with rheumy unseeing eyes and impossibly wrinkled skin. Though I couldn't know the words to describe it at that time, I remember their fragility and seeming vulnerability being so unsettling for me. But my fear soon gave way to that puzzled wonder that Karlie conveyed as I witnessed the smiles and pure joy those old people expressed as we sang to them. Some closed their eyes as tears streamed down their faces and they tilted their heads towards us so they could hear more clearly. Some of the white-haired old ladies would clasp our hands as we stood near them and with beaming smiles tell us how beautiful we were. I remember feeling that warmth of knowing we'd made these people happy somehow, even though I didn't understand how we'd done it.

Recalling all of this, I asked the girls if they would sing the song again for my sister and me as we sat in the living room last night. They did, and as I listened I thought how their leaders' demeanor when she dropped them off made so much sense now. Of course she was touched by hearing these sweet girls sing to people who were hungry not only for warm food, but for a warming balm that would soothe their troubled spirits, if only for an evening. Of course she was moved by the pure innocence that they exude at this tender time in their lives. Who wouldn't be?

I love the wonder of little girls who sing simple, sweet songs.

Love from the farm,

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