Monday, December 20, 2010

Monday Reruns: Grand Central Christmas

(original post-date: December 23, 2009)

My verbal skills include the ability to take an acerbic path. That's not necessarily a gift. It just is. And it is, among other things, potentially misleading. Contradicting that caustic edge is another part of me -- the part that is moved to tears by a profound sense of what I can only describe as universality.

That connection.

That feeling.

That “brotherhood of man” thing.

Although I claim no religious affiliations, Christmas carols have always pushed that special button for me. I don’t care if it’s about some little town named Bethlehem, a drummer boy catching Mary’s eye, or whatever it was that came upon a midnight clear… if you put me in a room where a bunch of people are singing those songs, I guarantee you, I’ll start crying.

(I might even embarrass you.)

Back in my New York years, I worked for a time at the Ford Foundation, and so my commute to and from the office involved walking through Grand Central Station. One December evening, I was in the main concourse area when I heard some familiar songs, and so I was drawn to a circle of people. Among them was a man in his late twenties (I’m guessing), dressed in jeans and a flannel shirt. His guitar was strapped on, and his enthusiasm in leading the group of carolers was charmingly genuine. As for the group, it appeared to have a core: young people. Specifically, teens.

I’ll never know the actual story behind the gathering, but I made one up on the spot, and I’m sticking to it. Here’s what I think was happening at Grand Central that evening: teacher man, who had grown up in the 60’s and 70’s, had an altruistic heart (quite different from his peers, who were – at the time – all wearing yellow ties and working on Wall Street). He successfully recruited about a dozen of the ninth graders from his Connecticut classroom, and together, they rode the train into Manhattan earlier that afternoon. Then, just in time for the rush-hour madness, they formed their circle. For anyone who joined the circle, they had prepared – and happily distributed – sheets of lyrics.

They were armed and ready – to promote joy to the world in Grand Central Station.

When I first approached the circle, it was simply out of curiosity. Once I realized I could do some caroling on my way home from work, I was more than happy to join in. I accepted a copy of the stapled collection of lyrics (though I didn’t need them for the most part), and I participated with enthusiasm.

But as we were into the second verse of Angels We Have Heard On High, I realized I had to make an adjustment. I had to hold the stapled lyrics a little higher. I had to hide my face. I was hard-pressed, at that point, to hold back the tears, and while I’m not ashamed to cry at anything, I didn’t want to disturb someone else’s good time…

I should note, though, that part of what compelled that maneuver was the observations I already had made. Before allowing that lyric sheet to hide my emotion, I had looked around. I had taken in the faces and bodies who had joined this circle of impromptu carolers. There were homeless women (at the time, we called them “bag ladies”); there were businessmen and women executives; there were local service workers and tourists just passing through. There was teacher man and his students.

There was, from what I could tell, everyone.

Everyone – singing together in a circle.

Everyone – creating a sound of joy.

The beauty of the noise emanating from Grand Central’s main concourse was so powerful. The familiarity there was so universal.

In that moment, all else seemed secondary or obsolete.

I hid behind the lyric sheet.

I sang and I cried.

And when I’d had my fill, I left the circle and caught the shuttle to Times Square.

From there, I transferred to the Broadway Local and headed home.

Happy Holidays.


Jules said...

What a stirring read. You have such touching memories to draw from my friend and seem to be equally in tone with them.

Happy Holidays to you!
Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

Anonymous said...

A lovely tale, I was right there with you. I feel I have been to Grand Central Station myself and seen those carol singers standing in a circle, their faces full of joy and hope. Maybe that's why you cry, hope is such a beautiful and magical feeling it can bring one to tears at any given moment. I hope you have a wonderful Christmas, full of hope but not full of tears of course.:-)

Sioux Roslawski said...

Katie--I would have been right next to you, crying. We could have done a duet of tears.

I once went to a concert/evening entitled "The Peace Train," or something similar. It was a South African (white) woman traveling around the country, and in every stop, she was surrounded by local kids who sang South African songs and danced choreographed numbers. I am not naive enough to think that she simply showed up in the next city, the kids gathered around, they practiced a bit in the morning and then performed for the audience that night. I KNOW there was probably a massive amount of coordination involved, and lots of practices weeks before each concert. However, seeing a stage filled with kids, all singing together and full of hope and promise, made me more than teary-eyed.

There have been many other tear-filled experiences I could recount, but alas, my eyes are right now brimming over with salty drops of liquid and I cannot quite see the screen because...No, I'm not crying. It's just allergies! Stop staring at me!

This was a great holiday post. Thanks. I always enjoy reading what you have to say.

#1Nana said...

Beautiful! I cry too, especially on Hark the herald angels sing when it gets to "Down on your knees, Oh hear the angels voices..." Music can just move me. I went to a performance of the Portland Gay Mens Choir and drizzled tears through all the Broadway tunes.

This was a great piece. I love those spontaneous incidents that become special memories. Merry Christmas!

Anonymous said...

This memory is obviously very vivid for you, and now it's that way for us. Thanks, Katie.

Cheryl said...

I think that's why I don't listen to carols. The tears from nowhere about nothing and everything.

Jayne Martin said...

What a lovely telling of such a beautiful Christmas memories. I could see the station and hear the voices. I have Christmas music playing in my house from Dec 1st on. It's almost the only time I listen to much music, but I love it and often sing along in my not-ready-for-prime-time voice.

Merry Christmas, my friend. A really lovely post.

Paul C said...

Grand Central Station, Times Square....some of the busiest places on the planet. What a wonderful story of finding joy and peace in your heart. I like how you characterized the teacher. Merry Christmas, Katie.

Lisa Ricard Claro said...

Fantastic story! And what a marvelous moment to be part of. Christmas carols bring me to tears also...I don't mind. I just let them roll. Merry Christmas!

Joey @ Big Teeth and Clouds said...

Such a great unplanned and touching moment you got to be a part of.

Great story! Hope you have a fabulous Christmas. It's alright to cry!

Lydia K said...

What a lovely story! It brings back memories of living in NYC and walking through Grand Central...every so often some magic like that happens and I'm very glad you were able to share it with everyone.

Deb Shucka said...

I have the same exact reaction to Christmas carols. This year it was a particularly strong reaction, attached to grieving, and I was grateful for the release and the feeling of connection to something much larger than myself and to all those people around me whom I knew carried their own sadnesses. I hope this year's holidays were full of connection and love and the joyous singing of carols for you.