Odd...this occurred to me today on the way in to work. I haven't thought of this time, and place, and the people connected with both for years. But it's Christmas time, and this is a Christmas story.
(Optional musical accompanyment to this story, The Wexford Carol with Yo-yo Ma and Alison Krauss)
More than fifteen years ago - it must have been at least that long, since I had left the company by 1999 and the company itself fell apart within another couple of years after that - the company I then worked for had its annual Christmas party. That year it was lunch at a local restaurant down along the Willamette River.
Unlike most "company parties" this really was a genuine party. We were a pretty friendly group then - this must have been some time in the early-mid-90s, before the outfit fell apart and the desertions and bickering started in earnest - we liked each other and our work, and so when the whole mob adjourned in the middle of a workday a couple of days before the holiday it was to enjoy a good meal and a pleasant time in one anothers' company. I remember it as being a very convivial afternoon.
We were sitting around after the meal, probably having drinks and inventing reasons not to go back to work, when the hydrogeologist, a woman named Nancy Speaker, began to softly sing The Coventry Carol.
I love and know that carol, and so I dropped in and sang the harmony along with her. Our voices blended well; her clear contralto and my bass-baritone dark and deep underneath, and - although we had never sang together and, indeed, didn't know each other could sing - had a fortunate ability to support each other's passage from melody to harmony and back.
We finished together. Sat, and smiled at each other, and I began Silent Night.
We proceeded to sing perhaps another half dozen or so carols. Nobody else joined in...but no one protested, either. Our co-workers quietly sat and listened, smiling pleasantly. By the time we were done the whole corner of the restaurant was watching and listening to this strange little spontaneous concert.
Try and imagine how odd that must have seemed if you'd have wandered into the midst of it; there, in that public place, with the broad river flowing winter-dark with soil outside the great window-wall below the unrelenting gray sky of the Dark Months, all those tables full of perfect strangers, gathered only through random chance - through their own seperate reasons and their own seperate lives converging there and then - sitting together listening to the voices of two other strangers rising though the silent room with the old songs of mystic birth and redemption.
When we finished there was no fuss or applause but just a long thoughtful quiet; it was as if we had not performed but had sung out loud what everyone else was feeling and thinking at that time of the year. We smiled and they smiled back and we had our last drinks and gathered our coats and left.
The oddest part was that it was that if you'd have scripted this as a scene in a Hallmark Channel Christmas film I'd have laughed it out of sight as completely, ridiculously, unreal. If you'd have suggested it to me earlier I'd have been too embarassed to have even considered doing it. But it happened, and I did, and at the time it seemed right; not just right but perfect.
And for all that it has been years and miles since that time, and place, and those people, have vanished...it is one of my most beloved Christmas moments. And for no reason other than my own sentimental remembrance of that time I wanted to share it with you.
May you all have a peaceful and joyous season.