The text from home caught me by surprise. It seems we’d gotten a special gift, and not via UPS or the U.S. Postal Service.
Missy had added a new word to her vocabulary.
“We’re watching Christmas videos,” my wife Heather wrote me, “and the Hallelujah Chorus was on and she sang ‘Hallelujah’ clearly.”
I blinked. And blinked again. And smiled.
For those who are new to this column, Missy is our disabled ward. She’s my age, but can seem much younger, especially since she’s a lady of few words, some of which do double duty. “Book” can refer to our reading time, or to an inquiry about where her purse is. “I wan’ a pop” can mean that she wants a soda from the fridge, or that she thinks it’d be cool to have a fast food night.
Sometimes, when her emotions are high, the words get more numerous and clearer. (The most infamous was when she told her father, after a near-accident on the road, “Damn it, Frank, are you trying to ****ing kill me?”) And in the six and a half years since Heather and I moved in, we’ve noticed how much she really understands and seen some additions to the vocabulary.
But going from the usual words and phrases to “Hallelujah” … well, even for someone who loves Christmas as much as Missy does, that’s a big leap.
I’ll admit, when something like that happens, there’s a temptation to doubt the miracle. The little voice in your head starts whispering “It was a coincidence. You want to hear it. You’re just making assumptions.”
Except … that same night, Missy and I went out on our near-daily Christmas light run. And as we observed the golden trees, and the sparkling roofs, and the Santas dressed in hula skirts, a really sickly-sweet cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” came on the radio.
And as the chorus came up, Missy echoed “Hallelujah.” It was slightly swallowed in the middle, but unmistakable.
Did you know your jaw can get sore from dropping it too many times in one day?
In an odd way, this underlined what I love best about the holiday season – how a seemingly ordinary moment can suddenly become extraordinary.
Snow transforms a landscape you’ve seen a thousand times into something new and amazing.
Lights and decorations turn a row of ordinary homes into something that shatters the winter night and brings smiles or laughter.
And so many stories from so many faiths celebrate the same kind of transformation, whether it’s a seemingly ordinary flask of oil stretching to eight days of devotion, or a seemingly ordinary family that suddenly becomes the start of a message to the world.
Like presents under a tree, the ordinary holds surprises – and we’re usually not the ones who decide when to open them. The paper can fall away and the ribbons loosen at any moment, introducing something we never expected. Sometimes it’s just a moment’s reaction. Sometimes it’s life-changing.
I think we notice it a little more at this time of year. We pay better attention. So much is both new and long-familiar that we can slip out of our usual habits of thinking and see things that we might otherwise miss.
Sure, it’s easy to get too busy, or stressed, or maybe even overwhelmed with memories that hurt more than they cheer. But the moments are still there, whenever we’re ready to meet them. Sometimes even when we’re not ready.
Joy can ambush us from strange corners. It only takes one unexpected moment, and the day is suddenly new, and different, and wonderful.
And to that, I say hallelujah.