I went to church last weekend with my wife and a friend to hear a Bach Brandenburg Concerto and a choral Ave Maria. The music was fantastic, but I was more intrigued by an old man with wild grey hair and a walking cast.
My friend, wife, and I sat in the very back of the church so that we could leave after the Ave Maria. We came for the music. The acoustics weren't as good in the last pew, but the Bach concerto and hymns, and the Ave Maria were over by half-time. And there wasn't a scheduled intermission.
The service opened with the concerto. Man, Bach is . . . is . . . ! And Bach live is even more overwhelming. I was immediately in a trance and didn't come out of it until the piece was over. A few lessons and hymns followed, and during one of these, I noticed what I thought was a woman dancing. A few rows up, a large coat and a scraggly mane of white hair that was pinned back was swaying back and forth. The hair was falling out of the pin and covering the collar. She'd sway back and forth and alternate raising her knees to almost waist height, which I couldn't figure out until she turned profile and placed her cast upon the back of the pew in front of her -- she was stretching her leg or helping her circulation. I realized that she was a he when I saw his face. After the hymn was over, he sat with his back to the wall, his arm over the back of the pew, and his left foot raised along the empty seat next to him.
Everyone else in this East Midtown church was nicely dressed and stoic.
After the congregation stood and read aloud Psalms 23, the gray haired man sat, leaned his head back against the wall with his eyes to the ceiling, and mouthed the word, "Wow." He then combed the congregation with his eyes till he landed upon a young couple with a child around the age of 4 or 5. He watched them as a solo tenor sang a Bach hymn. He smiled to himself. He spotted something across the church, stood, wadled over to a friend and said hello. The ushers watched him.
The best part of the evening started when the choir sang Ave Maria. I am only familiar with the Bach and Gounod arrangement. The choir sang a different version. It was heavily layered with harmony and alternating rhythms. I don't have the vocabularly to paint an accurate picture, but the music wasn't the best part. The way the music affected my wild haired friend is what made the evening.
He danced, swayed, and laughed. I wouldn't have noticed him if he were among the other crazies of the street, but among the stoic, well-groomed members of the congregation, he was glorious--in the truest since of the word.
I wished I had had the gall to stand up and dance with him. That is what church is supposed to be about. Everyone else was concerned about whatever it is that people are concerned about during a Christmas service -- unfinished laundry, overdue bills, crazy teenage children, an ailing mother, suffocation under the "to-do's" of life.
And he danced.
I thought about him as I drank my Starbucks with my wife and friend, as I rode the subway, as I took the bus through the park, and as I walked home. For all I know, the man could have been insane, but that's a great form of insanity. He simply talked to a friend, enjoyed the company of a young family, and danced.