My last responsibility as the evening receptionist is to shut down the computer, clean off the desk, switch over the phone and hold an activity with the residents for the last hour.
Today I had come in for another woman, which meant that her usual activity of holding a church service fell to me, if I wanted it.
I did not. I toyed with the idea, but before dinner I told the lead on shift that the activity had been cancelled, due to a lack of its usual hostess. My announcement caused no fuss and I went on with my busy work, grateful.
However, on my way back from delivering mail, I saw a little group of ladies discussing the cancelled church service.
"Was it only for tonight, or for good?" one wanted to know.
"Well, she could have let us know," remarked another.
Another lady sat silently, her hands folded in her lap, a patient smile on her face, eyes unfocused.
Looking at them in the half empty room, with the silent piano in one corner and the soaring ceiling in shadow, I relented. Or repented, which ever one you want. I went in search of a Bible and returned.
"I know the service has been cancelled, but it you'd like, I can read out of the Bible to you," I offered.
There was some brightened faces and a little dialogue as they all checked in with one another. In a moment it was clear that yes, they would. I dragged a chair over to them and one lady came over closer; we became a cozy little group.
"Is there anything in particular you'd like to hear?" I asked hopefully. There wasn't, of course. They couldn't have recalled a passage, even if they had wished to. Time had taken that away already.
Left to myself, I turned to Isaiah, remembering that there were some beautiful passages to be found near the end. It took me a while to locate the book of Isaiah, but the ladies waited peacefully while I flipped through. I stopped at the first chapter that looked like it wasn't going to be going on and on about death, destruction and general woe, and began to read aloud.
The language was especially heavy, more so than even the King James Version that I was accustomed to as a child. It required me to read very slowly and deliberately, and to enunciate with care.
As I read along, I got to this part: "Thou shalt no more be termed Forsaken; neither shall thy land any more be termed Desolate: but thou shalt be called Hephzi-bah, and thy land Beulah: for the LORD delighteth in thee, and thy land shall be married."
To my horror, my voice thickened as tears welled up and spilled over. I stopped reading and cleared my throat, embarrassed.
"...and I'm crying," I announced wryly. The ladies were very gracious about this. I took a deep breath and went on for a little bit until: "The LORD hath sworn by his right hand, and by the arm of his strength, Surely I will no more give thy corn to be meat for thine enemies; and the sons of the stranger shall not drink thy wine, for the which thou hast laboured..."
Again, I had to stop, put the book down and wait until the tears receded. "...and this is making me cry again," I said unnecessarily, when I could speak. I regrouped. "OK. Moving on..."
I managed, with some other sticky moments, to get through the chapter. "Now let's try something lighter," I said with relief. "Maybe something from the New Testament. I like John."
The ladies all murmured appreciatively, their eyes bright, so to John we went and my eye fell upon one of my favorite chapters. I was relieved; this surely would hold no hidden emotional pit falls! Ever the hopeful one, me.
Enjoying the familiar poetry of the passage, I read along for quite some ways with steady, confidence cadence until: "I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly."
"Alrighty then," I said, pausing to clear my voice. This time was especially embarrassing because a care manager was right beside me, giving one of the ladies her evening medication. When I say I began to cry, I don't mean a little tear glistened; I mean my voice became thick and hardly understandable and tears overflowed my eyes so that it was hard to see the words.
This is not the first time that reading the Bible aloud has caused me to weep openly. It used to happen all the time, when I was Department Head of the secure unit. I enjoy reading aloud, I have a strong, clear voice and I would read during the evenings. A couple times I would read from the Bible and I would end up crying in the same way, without warning and quite thoroughly.
We ended up our evening with a passage from Romans; by then I was desperate and figured Romans could do me no harm. Indeed, I could see from their faces that Paul's complicated sentences were losing them. I skipped ahead to find something to end on. I found this, near the end of the chapter.
"Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered."
"And we'll end on that," I said, closing the Bible and accepting at the very end that I had been, after all, conducting a service. "It's a nice thought to end with; that even when we don't know how to pray, or what to pray for, that God himself knows, and prays for us."
"Yes, that is a nice thought," spoke up one lady, her voice suddenly clear, her face alight in that moment.
"Thank you so much for reading," said another lady, warmly and graciously. She had been the one waiting so patiently with folded hands when I had first seen the group.
"Fine, fine," I muttered as I walked away. "I hear You already."
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