I had an interesting experience this weekend.
I came down with a cold last Wednesday, a pretty nasty one, but by Saturday, I thought I had turned the corner, which was a good thing because I was scheduled to sing at a wedding.
I woke up early on Saturday morning to attend a rehearsal for my chorus as we had a concert on Sunday. I sang fine in the morning and then went home to practice my pieces for the wedding. I was in good shape and prepared. I arrived early at the church to practice with the organist and violinist. We sounded terrific together on our 4 pieces. All we had to do was wait for the bride to arrive. I waited at the back of the church and as I waited, my throat seemed to get sorer and sorer and somewhat froggy. Not good for a singer.
When the bride arrived, I went up to the choir loft to sing Guonod’s Ave Maria. The frog was there, but I was able to sing through it. Certainly not my best work, but adequate.
I walked down from the choir loft to the front of the church where I would cantor for the Mass. It was a lovely Mass and exchange of sacramental vows. The priest knew the couple personally, and he spoke to them in a particular and intimate way.
The offertory arrived, and I was to sing How Beautiful, one of my favorite songs by Twila Paris.
That’s when it happened.
I started to sing, and I couldn’t. I mean I could not get the note out. My throat was sore and full of guck, and the note just squeaked. I stopped. I tried to clear my throat. I started. It happened again. I tried a total of three times. On the third try, I walked down from the altar and the instrumentalists continued.
One of the bride’s sisters, encouraged me, “It’s okay. We’ll all sing it.” I went back to the microphone and with my squeaky voice I said to the congregation, “You’re going to have to help me.” I motioned to the bride’s sister to come up to the altar as the instrumentalist continued. She arrived just before the second verse began. We sang the rest of the song together. At the end we just hugged and I thanked her profusely. She said, “It’s my sister’s favorite song, and we just had to sing it.” The congregation applauded as we embraced, and many tear-filled eyes looked on. It was beautiful.
Nothing like this has ever happened to me before. I have never stopped singing anything in any venue, and I’ve been singing since I was 10. I also don’t remember ever having laryngitis. Maybe I had it when I was a kid, but I just don’t get it. Until, of course, last Saturday.
The family was wonderful. They were very reassuring with, “Oh, don’t worry about it. The Ave Maria was beautiful, and it worked out just fine.” Needless to say, I was quite humbled.
I sent an email to the bride and her mom apologizing for what happened, explaining that this has never happened to me before. My only thought is that God must have wanted the bride’s sister to sing at her wedding.
The bride wrote back to me, “Please don’t apologize!! The music was absolutely beautiful and everything I had hoped for! I thought the ceremony was beautiful all around. I thought it was funny how your voice gave you trouble after the first reading from Ecclesiastes–two is better than one, when one falls the other will lift him up. My sister singing was an unexpected surprise and a great memory for our wedding day!” Her words warmed my heart. I had forgotten about that first reading:
Two are better than one: they get a good wage for their labor.
If the one falls, the other will lift up his companion.
Woe to the solitary man!
For if he should fall, he has no one to lift him up.
So also, if two sleep together, they keep each other warm.
How can one alone keep warm?
Where a lone man may be overcome, two together can resist.
A three-ply cord is not easily broken. (Ecc 4:9-12)
I was the solitary man on Saturday and a stranger (I still don’t know her name!) lifted me up. United in Christ, the three-ply cord was not easily broken, and good came out of it.
Today we celebrate the feast of St. Ambrose, one of the four original doctors of the Church. Ambrose was elected bishop of Milan in 374 when Bishop Auxentius, an Arian, died. Ambrose wasn’t even baptized at that point nor did he have any formal theological training, but his life and witness were known to the people of Milan who clamored for his election. As a bishop, he had a great influence on the Church especially in fighting against the Arian heresy. He also had a substantial effect on St. Augustine who was baptized by St. Ambrose and who succeeded St. Ambrose as bishop of Milan. I’ve often heard it said, “Augustine had Ambrose.”
That got me thinking. Two are better than one. When we look at the creation account in Genesis 1 & 2, we see God creating, and after every act He looks at what He fashioned and saw that it was good. This happened until He saw that man was alone. Only then, was something amiss, “It is not good for the man to be alone.” (Gn 2:18) This does not only mean marriage. We are made for communion with one another.
As we continue our Advent journey, let’s keep this in mind. Be Ambrose to Augustine. Bring Jesus to the solitary man by your simple presence. Lift up those who have fallen. Reach out to affirm, comfort, console, invite, include, or encourage those around you. If you’re struggling, don’t do it alone; don’t withdraw; reach out and invite someone into where you have fallen, so they can lift you up.
When we do this, Jesus is present. He is birthed anew. He is the strength of the three-ply cord that is not easily broken.