Wednesday, December 27, 2006

St. Olaf

They did what they could to hide her. And it almost worked. But once you saw her, she was unmistakeably there. We were watching a television programme entitled "Christmas at St. Olaf's" - a title which makes one of my age think of Rose from the Golden Girls right off. Several choirs were represented, some from Norway, some from the American midwest. They sang beautifully all of them. They look singular, each choir wearing robes that obsured all but faces. This being Norway it was a challenge to see a face that wasn't white, but a couple were there giving some contrast to the look of the choir. She was with the American choir, she'd travelled far.

I didn't even notice that she wasn't there until she was. Sometimes I forget that diversity is more than colour, it's also texture. But when the camera shot the choir from the side you could see two knees popping out of the razor sharp row. Someone was sitting! Interested now, I looked for another view and sure enough you could see her feet dangling about a foot from the ground. She'd been sat on something to bring her height up, so that she was shoulder to shoulder with the women on either side. I was truly glad she was there.

No special attention was given her, she didn't get more television time than the others in the choir, the camera caught her only when it panned the choir - she wasn't made special. Instead, oddly, her difference was eradicated. It would have taken diligent viewing to catch that she was even there. That there was 'one of those' in the choir.

I wonder how she felt about it. Was she pleased just to be a member of something bigger than herself? Did she feel that her difference had been eradicated - erased, for some other more dasterdly reason? It's such a tough call. Sometimes it's good to just fit in, forget. Other times it's good to stick out, noticably.

I wonder about the black viewers of the same programme, did they look for faces like their own, did they sit back and smile when they saw themselves represented in the choir. I'm sure they did. Because it meant something to me to see her there. To be able to root for someone from the home team.

It mattered even more after this Christmas holiday. I use my wheelchair out there in the world but manage at home without it. For the first time I had to have Joe bring the chair in so I could use it when helping make the Christmas cake and to do the Christmas wrapping. I didn't mind so much, though I knew this meant something.

But it clearly doesn't mean that I couldn't sing in a choir and fly to Norway. If I could sing. If I could find Norway on a map. It's important to be reminded, every now and then, what disability DOESN'T mean.

Even though she was hard to find amid the faces. Even though I had to scan the rows of feet to spot the dangly ones. Even though it took the right camera angle to see her knees. It mattered to me.

Sure she gave the choir the gift of ther voice.

But she did something else.

She gave me a gift of her presence.

How cool is it to be able to do that?


Anonymous said...

A friend of mine from the choir passed your comments on to me....I have to say, I was a little surprised at what I read, but glad. I'm happy to have made that statement for you. It's one of the main reasons I sing. I was happy they did as much as they did to hide me, as a choir is supposed to be one organism and not made up of its parts. At first the fact that my knees showed bothered me, but now that I've read your blog I'll think of those shots differently. Currently I'm battling my own disability a little harder than before and am unable to sing. I face the likely possibility of having to drop out of the choir that has been my focus for the last two and a half years. I may not graduate in May because I am a vocal performance major. But I can still follow my dream to teach. Thanks again, courage and peace to you through dark days.

ABEhrhardt said...

Before we moved to California, I sang with a tiny Princeton U. choir composed mostly of students - and I did it sitting down except for something rare and short I could stand for. No one cared. Of course we were not attempting to look uniform with choir robes, but we were in that gorgeous chapel - and no one cared.