Silent Night

In that post where I go on and on catching you up with my (yawn) life and self, I sound like a real social butterfly. I’m not. When I was a tot, my father was still of the ilk that children should be seen and not heard. I was small and shy and sometimes sightless for long stretches at a time so I was mostly quiet, busy trying to get oriented. The subtlety of sounds rather than noise became important. Occasionally I would do something like put on a blue tutu, burst into the living room and leap onto the middle of the blond-wood 50s coffee table to dance my version of the Sugar Plum Fairy before skidding off into a large pole lamp, but mostly, I was just trying to stay upright and on my father’s good side.

During the holidays, things became much more hectic around our house. My father came from a large family and they were busy reproducing noisy cousins rapidly. We lived in post-war suburbia where cocktail parties and open houses were de rigueur. My father was in the world of advertising and marketing. (Ah, the irony in our lives! Rich has been hooked on a series called Mad Men about business marketing in the fifties and I find that I just detest that show.) Also, remember that my father was with Ford Motor Company and at Christmas his job took us to places like Hudson’s massive underground warehouse in downtown Detroit. There, Ford tractors were used on the floats for the Thanksgiving Day Parade that was second only to Macy’s, in size and stature. Amid balloons that dwarfed my field of vision further, countless marching bands and clowns on stilts, I was completely overwhelmed by the privilege of this annual event. The giant Ford Rotunda at Christmas time, with the world’s largest Christmas display of it’s day and the Henry Ford Greenfield Village– those were the Christmas icons of my childhood: all bigger than life, very bright and loud places, swarming with enormous crowds.

With that early history, I am really more like Chauncey the gardener, happier watching than participating. I really dislike small talk and someday I might even become an elective mute, especially if I see another dentist in my headlights. If I think about the erratic nature of my writing here, it’s similar. I get caught up chattering and then I just go silent. The silent part feels more like the real me. Don’t get me wrong- a good conversation, especially one where I am discovering something new or helping someone else discover something- well, that’s the best. And, although my preferences run to birds and tomatoes and weather, I very much enjoy being around some people, reading or hearing what they have to say. But just blah, blah and yada,yada I do not like. I also dislike business dinners or events where I keep on smiling and nodding and I really dislike malls and amusement parks. There’s only so much humanity in my immediate space that I can tolerate and if you add spinning and shrieking and flashing lights to that-ah, no.

So in the middle of that mad dash between Chicago, Florida, oral surgeon, house tour and glass blowing, what did I do? I went to Disney World. Disney World is a place I have studiously avoided for all but one bleak afternoon of riding the Small World boat around and around when Abby was 4- and only then because I felt guilty that my children had to endure a divorce. Well, I went there 2 weeks ago. For 24 hours. A mere 48 hours before 1247 people wandered through my bedroom.

As with the Super Bowl or the Final Four, some folks say, “Wow! You got to go to Disney World, stay in a luxury Beach Club suite, eat potato wrapped red bass in a veal demi-glace and drink fine wine at the Flying Fish four star restaurant, and have a gold pass to go anywhere you wanted, front of the line, at Disney World for free!?!?” I did indeed. While I tried to figure out how long the average American family has to scrimp and save to go, I was there for free. And, as with the Super Bowl and Final Four, at Disney World I was an ungrateful wretch who shouldn’t be allowed out in public. It’s not that I misbehave other than cringing and wincing a bit much. They just shouldn’t allow ingrates like me to be in places like that for free. Rich, you might recall, is in the sports marketing industry and Disney owns Wide World of Sports, so he had a meeting and those kind people were generous and gracious enough to roll out the carpet for me as well and that’s how I landed at Disney World, muttering to myself about too many people and the evils of amusement parks.

I wandered over to Epcot and took that stroll around the lake, stopping at various countries along the way. I felt as though I was living The Truman Show and fully expected to bump into Jim Carrey any moment. It was so clean. So pastel. So processed. You know how Kraft Singles are like that? Really delicious on the one hand but somehow just not right? It was like that. I loved the surround movie of France. It was filmed the way that movie Winged Migration was filmed- from hang gliders or hot air balloons or something. And it was all around me, every where I turned. (When I was a child I went to see How The West Was Won in Cinerama; it was like that more than IMAX.) Then I bought an apron from Provence in the shop. I saw a Japanese performer in full regalia explaining the significance of Oshogatsu, (Japanese New Year) but I kept wondering what he looked like in jeans and a golf shirt. I mean, he doesn’t dress like that all the time, does he? Then I went to the Canadian pavilion, which was embarrassingly rustic and I bought Rich a pair of moose boxer shorts for Christmas (shhh. It’s a surprise. You know how I’m always trying to upgrade his wardrobe.) Finally I went to that space mission simulator in Future World where I got to be the “navigator” on a space mission with a family of four. I was the odd person they tucked in to fill the fifth slot and I got very concerned that if I failed in my role that whole family would be dead on Mars before Christmas. Right after that I walked outside and guess what? The real space shuttle was scheduled to launch so I watched in the sky for that but it never went. Probably some navigation problems.

So. With that anxiety I had enough of Disney World for the day and I went back to the Beach Club and our room to wait for Rich and dinner. They have a sand bottom swimming pool there. I think it must be a real bear to keep it so clean. They also had a 1500# working gingerbread carousel in the lobby. Now THAT was something and it smelled great, too.

There I was, somewhere between awe and a seizure, but I did manage to smile all during an exceptionally fine dinner. The people at the restaurant were all sports guys because they were broadcasting the Wide World of Sports College Football Awards that evening. Tim Tebow was there. (Mrs. FC would have enjoyed that, I think.) I, of course, did not know who he is. Everybody was incredibly nice, friendly, perfectly gracious- good people. If I liked people more and hadn’t been working so hard to deny my toothache, I’m sure I would have enjoyed it even more but let me repeat: It was very very nice.

Where is this all going, you ask? One of the perks we were given were front row seats to the Candlelight Processional and Massed Choir Program, a Disney tradition Walt started in 1958. On the scale of is this something? this is Something. Big. Each night 400 choir members, a full orchestra and a celebrity narrator tell and sing the story of Christmas. Rock Hudson did it once. This year Chita Rivera, Andie MacDowell, Dennis Franz and Gary Sinise are guest narrators. (Gary Sinise was also my flight commander during the space mission. More confusion.)

I love Christmas pageants and I was particularly spoiled in Ann Arbor where we would go to Hill Auditorium for The Messiah and Concordia University for Boar’s Head Festival. Exactly two minutes after I get the dishwasher loaded from Thanksgiving dinner I break out the Christmas CDs. So this was, for me, the reason to be at Disney World two weeks ago.

However, although this “massed choir” was great stuff, in a Truman Show sort of way, it lacked passion. The soloists held microphones the way headliners do on TV or in lounge acts. There was quite a bit of big hair and makeup. It was a show. An event. It was an experience rather than a feeling. Maybe it was just us, but here was one thing: the choir members wear different colored robes that, once they all get organized, make them look sort of like a giant Christmas tree. On the very top riser is the tree topper and that involves someone wearing a bright yellow headpiece that is reminiscent of only one thing: Beldar, the Conehead. It didn’t help that the night we went the guy wearing it looked just like John Belushi. What can I say? Me? I could have overlooked that except Rich started to laugh and couldn’t stop. It was that stifled, spit sputtering kind of contagious laughter that quickly gets out of control.

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Alright now. I didn’t start to write this post to be haughty and sarcastic. There was a point and I’m there now. Here was this 400 member, very earnest choir and a remarkably good orchestra and celebrities and front row seats, lights, trees and some giant sort-of stained glass window panels, in that Kraft Singles way. And the Conehead guy. They were singing all of my favorite Christmas carols and hymns and reading the scripture of Christ’s birth. It didn’t even particularly bother me that it was so very Christian (okay- they played eight measures of high spirited Dredl, Dredl, Dredl in the opening medley but after that it was strictly CHRIST-mas, as billed. Miz S’s Josh would have been singing right along.) And although I love this Christmas music, the program wasn’t doing it for me. It was really nice but it was overly processed nice. My attention began to wander and I shifted to people watching and then I saw her. I saw the woman who was standing off to the side of the stage signing in ASL the entire program, song and readings.

Here is where words will fail. I guess that’s not a surprise because she was signing. And I don’t know how to tell you how very beautiful, how very full of genuine feeling, how very real the Christmas story was for me, watching her sign. She was a lovely person to begin with, quietly elegant in black clothing, with her long blond hair pulled back simply. I think she was maybe in her forties and everything about her spoke to a quiet dignity. And when she signed! It’s such a magnificently expressive language to begin with but I had no idea. The signs for “angels”, for “fall on your knees”, for “King of Kings”? If you don’t know ASL you have to take my word for it. It wasn’t as though she was projecting anything extra into it and it wasn’t acting or dramatic. She moved naturally from a gospel bounce of “Shout for Joy” to the French lullaby, “Il Est Ne”. When she signed “Do You Hear What I Hear?” I heard it more clearly than ever before, all fresh and new and not the least bit pasteurized. Believe me. This was the most powerful rendition of the Christmas story I’ve ever (not) heard. Hands down. Hands up. Her hands were nothing short of magical. I could not take my eyes off of this woman and I wanted it to last all night.

It didn’t and then there were massive fireworks over the lake with a giant floating world opening and closing and too many people and too much noise and all I could think was that if they do that every single night the lake must be a bear to keep Disney squeaky clean. But what I took back to our room and then back to the bungalow and now into the week before Christmas was the beauty of that woman signing “Rejoice with Exceeding Great Joy.” I later scoured the program for her name but all it said was “ASL provided by office of services for guests with disabilities.” I called the front desk to ask for that office so I could say thank you and, after some hang time the operator said, “I’m sorry, I can’t find a listing for that office. Have a magical day!” That’s what they all say down there, ad nauseam: “Have a magical day!” Makes you want to smack someone.

But that woman? She gave me the gift of remembering the magic and the wonder of the whole season and I thank her.

And there you have it. A long drawn out Christmas post, yada, yada, blah, blah and the part I really want to share with you- there are no words for that. To say that the sign for “stars brightly shining” had this woman gently touching the night sky, rising higher and higher in a way that gently touched my heart- well, that doesn’t do it. To say that my spirit lifted when she signed “angel’s voices” with a soft lifting of her hands from her shoulders- words don’t really convey that to you.

Christmas comes in many packages and most all of them are blaring, glaring glitz. And yet, beneath the stress and excitement, conspicuous gifting and extended credit, both fiscal and moral, there is still and always this: the calm and the peace and the hope and the gift of that most special silent night. I wish the spirit of the season for you.

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16 responses to “Silent Night

  1. Going to Disney for the Candlelight Procession and concert became a Christmas tradition for our family when our children were small. At that time it took place in the Magic Kingdom where the procession took place down main street and ended up at the train station.

    One year as we were standing among the crowd and the music was ever so wonderful, some man near us said, “Well, this is like church.” Yes, it is Christmas.

    Two years ago, I wanted to go again, and so Sarah, her boyfriend at the time, and I went. This time it was at Epcot. I felt like it had been relegated to a place where if you were looking for it, might find it. They have to appease all these Christians, you know, by keeping it. After all, we spend a lot of money when we go there.

    I didn’t find it as thrilling as I used to. The highlight of it all was that James Claviesel (sp?) was the narrator, and for what little Scripture was read, he was wonderful, and then when it was over he spoke to the crowd that was there.

    Our Sweet Adelines chorus has learned the “Rejoice” medley, and I think you would rather enjoy it if you were to hear it.

    And really, Vicki, get with it, Tim Tebow is the best, and I hope that Florida pulverizes Michigan.

    Merry Christmas to you too. I love you.

  2. Oh, by the way, I totally agree with you on the signing. We have signers at our church, and occasionally, for some of the songs, they will have them on the platform beside the pastor. As you said, the signing for certain words is breathtaking.

  3. That was a wonderful Christmas post. Really, I don’t know exactly what it was about it, kind of like how you said that words can’t quite express how the signing touch you but there’s just something about this post too, in that way.

    Oh and you describe Disney PERFECTLY. It really IS like the Truman Show. So very contrived and perfect. My husband and his whole family love the place. I’m a little more ambiguous about it. We went this summer with our kids. I can definitely wait another five years to go again. Him? He’d go NOW if he could.

    Merry Christmas Vicki.

  4. Well, I’ve never been to Disney but I enjoyed your story. The husband and I are the snobby sort that feign indifference to such blatant commercialization in the name of tourism! Ha! Our favorite theme park is NASA here and taking our tourist friends there!

    I think we have a true thread running through our blogging friendship. My father was also in marketing. He was VP of Sales and Marketing for a national distiller. So, cocktail parties and dinner parties and my sisters and me banished to the kitchen to eat with the housekeeper was how we lived. Seen and not heard after we smiled sweetly upon being introduced to guests. Yeah, I know the drill. My husband was raised the same. I am sure it is why we rarely entertain and have a very ‘comfortable’ and lived in home.

    I love business trip perks. What a good Christmas present for you this year!

    Merry Christmas, Vicki. Wishing you a wonderful celebration with your family.

  5. I didn’t yawn once, Vicki. You were lucky to be there, even if you weren’t feeling it all that much until the signing. I love to watch signing and we have a book about it – the Joy of Signing. I learned some of it once, and then promptly forgot it when I had no one to practice with. Have a Merry and Quiet Christmas, Vicki and a Blessed 2008!

  6. As always, you come to the heart of the matter and what is truly important. Thanks for the reminder to be still in the midst of all the flurry about us.

  7. Wow, Vicki. What a great story. Thank you.

  8. I was reading this post and enjoying it very much without really realizing where it was going. And suddenly it got there, and it was even lovelier than I imagined.

  9. You Vicki, no doubt about it have a way with words. You touched me. I am hard of hearing and have two deaf sisters. I grew up with ASL and you put into words what I have often thought about ASL. One of the classes at the daycare my grandson goes to did ASL to a song for the Christmas program. I really had to fight to keep from sobbing, it just touched my heart so much!

  10. Helen Keller? Clara Barton? Any of those strike a bell? (I thought not. So it goes…..)
    That final picture is SO lovely you should get A plus for this post. And so ye shall.

  11. Disney World? I would love to go there, just to people watch and see the sights. However, I would like all the people to disappear because I’m not into crowds much either. I can “make nice” but I get tired quickly since I deal with kids all day in my job. I am realizing that I’m a lot more of a loner than I ever realized. As for the ASL, I work in the World Language Dept. and in a school that is a deaf magnet, so I’ll tell you that you were fortunate. Some signers are wonderful, and others make me want to rip my hair out. And I’m sure you know that it’s horribly difficult work–exhausting. When we have a staff meeting, there are usually two interpreters who take turns signing to our deaf teacher.

  12. Your exquisite photograph brings to mind the silhouette style of Jan Pieńkowski!

    Bruce took me to the NW Boy’s Choir concert at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Seattle last night. I began weeping during “Once in Royal David’s City” and didn’t stop until the end.

    I do miss the Boar’s Hea Festival. How it pains me to admit that Concordia-Ann Arbor is tops!

    Miss Madeleine is proficient at ASL. We have a profoundly deaf and amazingly communicative teacher at our homeschool center. It is a dance of extreme beauty, indeed!

    Blessed Advent, dear Vicki!

  13. I love to watch the signers too.

    Wishing you a Merry Christmas and a peaceful New Year.

    Ann

  14. Well, if none of these other folks will say it, I will.
    You ARE too a social butterfly. Read this blog … it’s all there.
    1200+ folks through your bedroom and you’re not a social lepidopteran?
    Butterflies are free, (I hear) so that’s not a bad thing.
    I read every millimeter of this post. It was very good and I could almost see that signer singer.

    Your last photo is stunning, stunning, stunning and begs for a location or some info for those of us awestruck by it.

    Merry Christmas Miss Vicki!

  15. Awww, I am so jealous. But not jealous enough to want to have been at Disney World during Christmas.

    Btw, I’ll be in your neck of the woods this week. Will you be there or are you still on the sunny sands of FLA?

  16. Wonderful story – so nicely told.

    Hope your Christmas is happy.

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