Todd and I struggle through a choir performance, but for vastly different reasons
|Carol and I drag ourselves to church for an 8:15 am choir practice. Neither of us having gotten much sleep- me because I’m getting over a cold, her due to a side ache of unknown origin. As usual, lots of women are there to sing, but as for men, only Gary and I are present. |
We’re getting settled in our seats when Todd and Shana arrive. Todd has brain cancer, and the chemo treatments have reduced him to a cane-bearing shell of his former self. He gets around, but slower and with zero vigor, his mind struggling to punch through the exhaustion that’s become a way of life and which, in some ways, seems less preferable than a hospice session, followed by whatever awaits him on the other side of the Veil.
Shana comes up to the choir seats but leans over to tell me Todd doesn’t want to sing, would rather just sit and watch us. I say I understand, but grab a copy of the sheet music and walk down to Todd. He has a beautiful tenor voice, so maybe singing will lift his spirits. Though his face shows no emotion- chemical fatigue making even a smile too much to muster- he sees the music in hand and says “Let’s go.”
We make our way up to the back row choir seats where the tenor and bass sections live. Todd parks his cane at row’s end, and we sit. I hand him music; he holds it limply in his hands as he speaks above a whisper: "I'll follow you."
The practice begins as a few church members filter into the chapel to get good seats. I struggle to keep up with the director, the melody, the tenor part, the words and whatever dynamics are required, for I don’t know this piece very well. Todd struggles to keep up with me, the effort of traveling up to the choir section having drained what little reserves of energy he brought with him to church. After a few passes through the song, we’re ready. The rest of the singers head for the pews in the congregation while I stay with Todd.
“Can you fix my tie for me?” he asks. Thinking it just needs some straightening up and cinching, I see that it’s untied, dangling around his neck. I pull it out, feeling self-conscious as I wrap it around my neck and tie a Windsor in it before slipping it over Todd’s head and neck. It takes a bit to get it under his collar and in place, but after pulling it tight, all is well. Then I check my tie and realize it too needs adjusting and the collars buttoned down.
After a few minutes spent watching the gathering congregation, I feel weight against my right shoulder. Todd is leaning into me for some reason. I want to say something, but his eyes are shut; he’s asleep. Moving my shoulder a bit wakes him up, upon which he realizes the imposition and rights himself. But a minute later he’s again sinking over against me, and though I try not to feel it an imposition, I fail. But if I move to another seat, he’ll soon topple out of his chair, so I sit there, effecting a nonchalant pose for whoever’s observing us from the congregation seats.
The coat Todd’s wearing is a puffy synthetic type that radiates stored body heat like a small oven, and pinned there in my own seat, I start sweating. Thus arranged, Todd and I, an odd sort of dance begins. He slumps way over onto my shoulder, while I sit there trying not to look troubled or discomfited. I then exert pressure; he awakes and straightens up. Then he falls asleep and resumes the sideward slide. After a few more of these, his left arm falls my way and slips down between the seats, touching my right calf. I try to move away, but there’s nowhere to go.
The meeting begins. Following an opening hymn, prayer, and the usual announcements, the Sacrament is passed. While the bread and water are handed from one person to the next, feelings of resentment arise. Why me? I can’t concentrate on the Savior’s sacrifice when a grown man’s right shoulder is pinning me to my seat. I remind self that some things are more important than meditation- things like selfless service- and I calm down for a bit.
Then it’s the choir’s turn. All four sections stand, except for Todd and I; he’s too weak to do more than sing, relying on my voice to guide him. Fortunately, there’s no one blocking my view of the conductor, so I remain seated. We make it to the end, me only missing a note here and there, while Todd sings a note here and there, but can’t keep up for the rest. The song at an end, everyone returns to sit with their family, friends, and significant others- everyone but Todd and me and the choir director.
For the remaining thirty minutes of meeting time, I sit there perspiring as Todd sinks, rises, fights drowsiness, then loses the latest round as he slowly slides to the left. It gets me to thinking about how sick he really is. He told me a while back, when I picked him up from a therapy appointment at the hospital, that the doctors had given him six months. He said his family wants to make the time count with get-togethers and the like, before the end comes. And here it is, one-third of that time gone, and me wondering if I’ll be seeing much more of him. I think about being sick with a cold, grousing to Carol about how I’ll need a nap after we get home.
As the meeting ends, I ask Todd how he’s doing and he mutters a thank-you, then stands and totters over to his cane, nearly falling down as he descends the few stairsteps to the regular seating area.
Shana thanks me for helping him, but I think he’s done more for me, on this Easter Sunday.