When she sang it was in this thin reedy voice that set everyone on the church’s teeth on edge. She was so tiny and thin and leathery that it was incredible and defied reason that such a sound could come out of such a body. It did. It was awful. But seriously how are you going to tell a little old lady that she sounds like someone’s killing cats when she sings? When she raises her skitchery and loud voice to the skies in praise of the Lord? No, you will not say one word and I myself chose not to sing for fear that I might sound terrifying too.
What you will do is this: you will suffer and sit there and contemplate the pain that Jesus went through when he died on the cross for you and even though intellectually you know his pain was worse you will find yourself debating the merits of yours versus his.
So if my ears actually start bleeding does that count as maybe 3-5 lashes of the whip? If my mind cracks in half does that come anywhere near the anguish of waiting to die? Of course not but we are born narcissists and we can’t help but think our pain is worse than anyone else’s on the whole planet even Jesus.
When I complained as a child about Mrs. Bunker’s reedy rampage called song, not giving a crap who it was she was singing to, I got a pinch for my troubles.
After that I chose to sit in the furthest back pew with my Grandfather who would give me paper and pen. He would listen, or pretend to listen, to the sermon while I drew pictures and wrote short stories about ladybugs and their houses catching on fire which come to think of it why do we say that anyway? What a horrible rhyme to teach children.
All children’s rhymes are pretty awful when you research them. It’s kind of horrifying to realize that all the fun you had with your sister singing Ring around the Rosie was related to people dropping dead of the Black Plague. Gross.
I was about fifteen when Mrs. Bunker’s voice ended. Even then I remember during the singing, the following Sunday, that things felt wrong without her warbling off key tones. It was Texas hot in the pews. I felt off kilter, grumpy and I wanted everyone to shut up and not sing since Mrs. Bunker couldn’t anymore.
Her daughter was sitting in front of me softly crying. I felt awful for having hated her Mama’s songs for so long. I reached up and patted her doughy shoulder and when I pulled my hand back I realized it was not only doughy but really sweaty too however I didn’t flinch at all. I just wiped it on my skirt and was proud of myself for patting her shoulder at all given how much I hated touching most people, even my own family.
Mrs. Bunker’s screeching and its sudden silencing taught me about being gracious. My mother would tell me often to take things with a bit of grace to which I would nod vigorously and then go about clomping my way through life as usual. I finally got it on that sweltering day.
Mrs. Bunker was, or rather had been, a person. Listening to her and appreciating her efforts would have been gracious. So what if her singing was horrendous? She sang with all her heart and pure passion trumps skill any day of the week in my book now. Recognizing that her high volume songs had value, even if I personally didn’t enjoy them, made me forever after aware that I didn’t know as much as I thought I knew on most days.
Even at fifteen I knew that her weeping daughter would give anything under the sun to hear her mother sing once more. I supposed Mrs. Bunker was singing with Jesus now and I was more than a little certain that he didn’t mind how she sounded either.
I cleared my throat, took a deep breath and raised my voice to the rafters in song.