Monday, December 19, 2011

Monday Reruns: Grand Central Christmas

A NOTE BEFORE READING: This is actually a rerun of a rerun, but if you've seen "the Grinch" or White Christmas more than a few times, you'll appreciate that sense of precedence that comes with holiday fare. This also will be my last post for 2011. ...When windstorms lead to power outages lead to fried motherboards and the unexpected purchase of a new computer, a girl can get a little stressed, so... I'm giving myself a break. I will, though, try to resume my enthusiastic blog-hopping in the days and weeks ahead. And, I'll be back with a fresh rerun and a new post early in the new year! Best wishes to all, and to all a good week.

(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.


Sioux said...


First, have a great holiday. I will miss reading your posts while you take a break but a gifted writer like yourself needs to take occasional "vacations" from your blogging because, after all, that is your gift to the rest of us--your warm and entertaining posts.

I, too, am easy when it comes to crying. What inevitably gets the tears rolling for me is a whole stage of kids who are singing/dancing together. Not professional performers, but school kids, local kids. That's who will make me sob. There was a South African singer who did a tour called "Peace Train." She would coordinate, city by city, so that she'd be joined by a hundred or more local kids. It made me cry, big-time.

Have a great time.

Green Monkey said...

oh Katie, I just cried reading that!!!

what a magical moment that was and thank you for sharing it (really).

My grandson had his school band concert last week. He plays the trombone (how adorable is that). They combine the chorus and the orchestra as well. I was somewhat composed until the chorus sang a song, in hebrew. I don't remember the name of it but it made me cry and I had no idea why since I had never heard it before and I did not understand any of the words. After it was over the chorus teacher said, "How luck am I - my job gives me goosebumps" - her reaction was unrehearsed and real. And yes, it made me cry. I continued to cry through most of the concert, especially when my grandson, bent down and did a "tebow" before playing "Oh Holy Night". Sometimes I hid my tears behind the program, other times I let um slide - proudly. Then I started focusing on some of the other children. There was a girl in the back row, singing with such conviction that I too got goosebumps. There was a little boy in the front who could only look at his shoes. Every time he looked toward the audience he gagged as though he was about to barf. (you could hear the front row's Ohhhh No's). And there was a boy in the back, on the opposite side of the little girl that was singing her heart out, who looked to be having a seizure. I am guessing it was a form of turrets (?). The children around him, kept as far away as they could. I felt so bad for the little boy. I waited till the concert was over. I wanted to watch him with his family. The "family" turned out to be the janitor - or maybe he was just hanging with the janitor - I'm not sure. anyway......WE, you and me (and many others) we feel things, emotions. ESPECIALLY if there are lots of emotions flying around the room. I try not to be embarrassed by my tears, but its so who I am :) Thanks for sharing this story. I loved it. I love knowing there are others, just like us, out there, wearing their emotions. (I might have to turn this into a blog post)

Mary Mary said...

What a fantastic story! I think it's great that all these strangers were there, singing in one spirit and one accord. Don't feel bad that you got teary-eyed because, hey, it happens to most of us this time of year. Have a great holiday season!

Martha Mawson said...

Got teary reading this, but you know me, happy emotional tears at the ready all the time. Thank you for sharing this one again. I shared it on Facebook. How I wish we could all feel this sort of joy any time of the year...

elizabethanne said...

What a wonderful post. This is definitely the sort of post that one wants to return to again and again, and I'm so grateful you did! And I'm so grateful that Green Monkey shared that wonderful story.

Now I'm going to blink several times to clear my eyes, and go on my way into the day with a joyful heart. Thank you.

Jayne Martin said...

Such a lovely piece from a very lovely lady.

cj Schlottman said...


Never one to be able to hold back a tear, this piece left me in a puddle of them. Take care while on your break (on one myself), and come back soon. I will miss you.

Namaste..........cj (sniff)

Kristy said...

Loved all the New York imagery. Happy New Years!