When you resurrect your participation in childhood activities you loved – which I highly recommend, by the way – you automatically summon happy childhood memories. Joining a new church choir did it for me, bringing me back to one of my favorite moments: the Sunday morning my mom murdered me while I sang All Things Bright and Beautiful with the church youth choir.
How is Murder happy, you ask? Let me explain, starting with the present.
I recently joined a new church and was thrilled to find out that the church offers, in addition to their regular choir, a special choir for people who simply love music and singing but maybe aren’t exceptionally talented. Such as me.
This group is spunky and fun. They range from twenty-ish graduate students to 80-something retirees who poke fun at themselves with abandon. One older man joked, in response to the choir director’s instruction for us to feel our diaphragms working, “I feel something but I think it’s just my pacemaker!”
Anyway, the moment I stood up with the choir in church last Sunday morning to perform the alto part of a lovely Zulu folksong, I unexpectedly felt my mother’s presence. My mind immediately wandered back to the last time I sang in a church choir more than 34 years ago, when I was about eight years old and my mom was winking at me from across the church, trying to kill me.
You see, when I was little, we occasionally had other families over for dinner. To keep the kids from being bored and wanting to leave the table, we played Murder, which is an excellent dinner party game. Murder involves handing each person at the table a playing card. The person who receives the queen of spades is the murderer and has to try to surreptitiously kill as many people as possible by winking at them as the dinner table conversation continues. Whoever is winked at must wait a few seconds or minutes before acting out a dramatic (or undramatic) death to avoid outing the murderer. Players can guess who they think the murderer is at any time, but if they’re wrong, then they’re out.
As you can imagine, dinner table conversation during a game of Murder is quite breathless and lively with everyone on edge, worried that they are about to be murdered. It’s just the kind of environment that entices children, especially when adults make it fun by dying in spectacular and inventive ways.
The Saturday night before my mother murdered me in church, we had hosted a particularly hilarious game of murder with the family across the street. My friend and her parents were great at extending and milking the dying process. That night, her father had really outdone himself, rolling around having spasms on the blue oval carpet under our dining room table during one of his deaths, much to our delight.
So Murder was still on everyone’s mind the next morning in church.
My friend stood next to me in the choir as we sang and my mother winked at us. I, of course, felt compelled to stick my tongue out, roll my eyes back and drop my head to the side in the middle of the song. I can’t remember if my friend kept her composure or not. I’m sure anyone watching me sing was confused about why I pretended to be dead for a few moments.
When I opened my eyes and proudly looked back at my mom, she was practically convulsing with silent laughter, wiping tears from her reddened face behind the service program. My dad tried to remain poker-faced, but his mashed-together lips and bowed head gave away his amusement.
That’s the image I was seeing as I sang with my new choir last Sunday.
Much to my disappointment, nobody in the pews below winked at me. But I couldn’t help smiling as I sang Jabula Jesu in memory of my mom, who once spiced up church by murdering me.