Hello, welcome back, and Happy New Year!
First, I’m happy to share that I Was a Stranger to Beauty (my new Kindle Single) launches with ThinkPiece Publishing next Monday, January 14th! L’Arche DC* will receive 5% of the proceeds from the first month’s sales. Next week’s post will feature an exclusive excerpt, but for this week, a story …
With each New Year, I choose a word as my theme. This New Year, it’s joyful. I want to embrace the fullness of life, with joy. (In fact, ‘Caroline’ comes from the French word ‘carol’, translated, “song of joy.”)
This New Year’s Eve, I recounted joyful memories with my husband, Jonathan. For example, I told him about the first time I saw his face: on a L’Arche brochure.
In the photograph (included below), Jonathan is playing guitar and singing with Gene, the patriarch of L’Arche DC. The first time I saw this picture, I thought, Gene avoids the spotlight. If this guy convinced him to perform, then they must have been close. And what did they sing?
I studied the image intently. If you’ve ever had the sense of knowing something was important without having any idea why, then you know how I was feeling in that moment.
This photograph felt significant to me. So I asked about it, and my friend Melissa filled me in: The mystery man’s name was Jonathan, and had been an assistant at L’Arche few years back.
I felt strangely regretful that this guy and I had missed each other. “Guess they don’t make ’em like that anymore,” I joked, covering the forlorn feeling. Melissa laughed, and I handed the brochure back.
Fast-forward three years. Jonathan and I have met and married, and we are about to say goodbye to Gene.
As I wrote at The Bold Life: “On the night before Gene died, I was eating dinner alone in my apartment. Suddenly, I was struck by a visceral knowing: This is Gene’s last night. This will be the last time I can see my friend. Trusting that intuition, I moved quickly.
On that final night, my husband played a song on the guitar; other L’Arche members rubbed Gene’s skin with lotions and wiped his brow with cloths.
Gene was never alone in his last days; the entire community rallied around him. I held his hands in mine and told him all the best stories I could think of, the good times we’d shared together.
In our last moments together, he offered us a gift in goodbye: though he couldn’t speak, he held my hand. Though he couldn’t hug us, his face lit up when my husband played and sang.”
The song was one I’d never heard before: I Saw the Light by Hank Williams.
I saw the light, I saw the light
No more darkness, no more night
Now I’m so happy, no sorrow in sight
Praise the Lord, I saw the light.
It’s a ‘conversion’ song, yet it’s also a song you’d sing if you’d experienced healing from cancer, or found out your friend was going to live. It’s a song about the beautiful moments of clarity in this life, the ones that illumine our way forward. It’s a song about having a reason to sing.
As I was reminiscing with Jonathan this New Year’s Eve, I said, “I remember being amazed at that picture of you and Gene from 2005. And I was even more amazed when you played for him the night before he died. It was the most beautiful gift you could have given.
You could see it in Gene’s face; even though he couldn’t move, he was transformed. He was full of joy.”
Jonathan’s reply? “It was the same song … in the brochure picture, we’re singing, ‘I Saw the Light’.” His tone implied: But however could you have known that?
We sat in silence, humbled by mystery. And in the deep stillness, I could almost hear their song. For a moment, that shared music was bigger than the days in between then and now. It was timeless.
And that’s my wish for you this year: that you might hear a song that speaks to you of timelessness, a song that reminds you of the love that has surrounded you your whole life long.
Because when you are aware of that love, you relate to others differently. You pay attention to your intuition, because it knows more than your conscious mind. And most of all, you look around at the beloved people in your life and arrive at the conclusion that you are blessed beyond measure.
And if you’re like me, you’ll want to tell these people that, in the words of poet Conrad Aiken,
“Music I heard with you was more than music,
And bread I broke with you was more than bread.”
Do you have a theme for the new year? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
*L’Arche is a faith-based non-profit organization that creates homes where people with and without intellectual disabilities share life together. I spent 5 years serving the DC community in various caregiving roles.
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That is so touching. What a sweet, sweet moment(and series of moments) to share with us. Clearly, Gene was very loved. What a joy he must have been to know.
I love this song. It is powerful far beyond its lyrics, and it always makes me think of you.
Oh my goodness, I love this song too! And I completely agree – it is powerful & resonant. Thank you so much for sharing that, my dear friend. <3
Thank you so much, Nicole! I really appreciate that. And you said it perfectly – it was (and is) a joy.
Beautiful Caroline! And can’t wait to read your book. Tell Jonathan I’ve been thinking about him with this ND vs. Bama matchup. I hope things are well with you both.
Thank you Katie – I’m so glad you liked the post!
And yes, Jonathan has been … shall we say … discontented with the football situation this year (since he’s an Auburn fan). But other than that, we are both very well. 😉
This brought tears of joy to my eyes. Thank you, Caroline, for sharing that lovely with us all, and that powerful quote from Conrad Aiken, as well.
Renee, I am so thankful to hear that it moved you! I spent a good deal of time working over this post, trying to hit the right ‘note’ – I so wanted to do justice to the moment, and to the men involved!
The Aiken quote was a last-minute addition, too, so thank you for the affirmation. I first read the lines in Madeleine L’Engle’s beautiful memoir, “Two Part Invention” — her husband quoted them when he proposed. 🙂
What a beautiful story to start the new year with Caroline. You know, what impressed me reading your post is knowing that Gene passed away being surrounded by his loved ones. So many elderly people die alone today. And that’s what is amazing about L’Arche…it’s one big family and no one is ever left behind.
I’m looking forward to your book! It comes out one day after my birthday…how nice 🙂
Happy New Year and Happy (Almost) Birthday, Metod! 🙂
And I completely agree – it was a remarkable thing to walk with Gene in his last days, and realize that it is a treasure to have that kind of support and community surrounding a person as they pass away. It was hard to be there, but it was also, most assuredly, a blessing.
Threads and tapestries…
Closely woven. Indeed. 🙂
I like the two pictures of J and G. You were right; they don’t make ’em like that anymore. 😉
😉 I love it! Thank you, my dear – I searched for and scanned both of the photos for the post, so that’s appreciated.
Caroline, this is a beautiful post. Not only Gene’s story, but also your reaction to J’s picture before you knew him. Of course, I love the pictures also.
“I Saw the Light” is one of my earliest memories. When Hank Williams died, I was four years old.
Our neighbor had grown up with Hank in Georgiana, Alabama and she wanted to attend the funeral. So, she, her son, my mother, and I , along with around two thousand other people, went downtown to the City Auditorium for the viewing and funeral. This song was played repeatedly over the loudspeakers as mourners slowly passed through to pay their last respects.
Sandra, thank you so much for the affirmation, and for sharing your early memory too! (And what a great connection, too – I hadn’t realized that that song was played at his memorial services.) I’m so thankful to be a part of your family.
This is my favorite story you’ve ever shared. What mysteries of life bring us together, carry us through tears, and lead us to joy. I am so grateful for the many songs of joy and sorrow, fear and faith I’ve sung in my friendship with you, dear Cari!
“How can I keep from singing?” has long been a question I’ve made myself remember, especially in hard times. And I’ve often found that the songs of longing and need are just as beautiful as those of joy. May I, and all of us, always be able to say “my life flows on in endless song!”
Thank you for your continued sharing-reading your words keeps me feeling connected to you despite the distance, and I can’t wait to read your new work Monday!
What wonderful words – thank you, my dear friend! And how perfect that you tied in ‘How Can I Keep From Singing?’ … the walking-down-the-aisle song at our wedding. (Well, sort of. We think the pianist may have actually played an entirely different song with the same title. Long story!) And I love your line, “I’ve often found that the songs of longing and need are just as beautiful as those of joy.” So true. <3
Also, the whole time I was reading your post I was thinking of one of my favorite songs, “Reason to Sing” by All Sons and Daughters.
“I need a reason to sing
I need a reason to sing
I need to know that You’re still holding
The whole world in Your hands
That is a reason to sing.”
[…] and I’d heard of some people choosing a theme or word of the year (like my beautiful friend Caroline), but I felt overwhelmed at the thought of narrowing my theme down to just one word (I’m […]
What a fabulous story! I love looking back and realizing certain things were meant to be. xoxo
Thank you, Bethany! And so well said – it is amazing to look back and see with the clarify of hindsight. xoxo right back!