It was two years ago at my sister’s house, and my mom came down the stairs with a junky old tape recorder and a cassette. “I got to hankering for Brother John’s voice”, she explained matter-of-factly, speaking of my Uncle John who had passed away a few years back. He taught choir at the local schools, and would sing in church and for recitals. Mom’s life revolved around choir as well, and hymns were always at her lips. We listened in silence, but at the same time, I was trying to figure out what was behind all of this. Mom grew wistful at one particular song, and I asked her what was playing. She piped up: “Now, this hymn is called, ‘His Eye Is on the Sparrow’*; it was played at the memorial service for both your Nonnie and Papaw; also your Aunt Barbie and Uncle John….” She trailed off, and I knew the rest of the sentence. And this time, I knew better than to jokingly chastise her concerning not wanting to talk about such things.
Mom’s hymns got her through life. In 2004, after I returned to Lebanon, I now know there were many years of worry ahead for her. When I would talk to her about my life there, and how difficult it was at times, she would reply with a hymn, reflecting her lifetime as a pastor’s daughter, and the years she spent singing in church. These were like secret messages, and I would look up lyrics and singers, and would find a comforting world beyond our conversation; a soulful communication. When we were planning her memorial last year at her church in our hometown in New Jersey, I requested this hymn be part of the service. As a thank you on behalf of the family to all those who graciously expressed sympathy to us, I made this memorial card, featuring a song sparrow. The holidays become difficult for her absence; I miss her so much. And I find myself recalling my mom sitting on the couch that day, softly singing to herself: “Why should I feel discouraged/Why should the shadows come/Why should my heart feel lonely/And long for heaven and home….” I realize now her hymns have gotten me through life as well.
* Gospel hymn, 1905; Lyricist: Civilla Martin; Composer: Charles Gabriel