—by Betty E. Landis
As we rounded the curve of the concourse, a child’s cries ricocheted off the tiled bathroom walls, into the carpeted gate area. It was early morning, and the howling was getting louder. Women and children spilled out of the bathroom with expressions of determination more pronounced than the typical I-must-get-to-my-gate look.
I told my husband: “I need to go in there and sing.”
He rolled his eyes and replied: “You shouldn’t interfere, honey.”
He couldn’t know that I was remembering an overwrought grandma at the county clerk’s office from a couple months ago. While her daughter waited in a long line, she sat behind me, holding her granddaughter on her lap as the child bawled loudly. So I turned and began singing the “ABCs.” The child’s cries turned to sobs and then to stares. Soon her big brother joined in singing. Once her mom had finished, the family went on its way, thanking the odd stranger who dared to sing in public.
That memory gave me courage as I entered the women’s bathroom. The ear-shattering shrieks bounced around so much I couldn’t tell where they originated. So I stood with my back to the entryway and began to sing. Almost immediately, the howls subsided. As people exited the stalls with thankful looks, it became clear that the child wasn’t in one of them. I slowly turned. There, with her nose firmly planted in the corner, was a little person dressed as a Disney princess. As I continued to sing—moving from the “ABCs” to “Winnie the Pooh”—I noticed a sheepish, bone-tired young mom around the corner, just close enough to keep tabs on the girl. EventuallyI heard the story of how the tantrum began: one simple, firm “no” after a week of “yes” at Disney and a full night of travel. Mom and Dad didn’t have anything left. They realized she needed to scream it out, and the bathroom seemed the most logical place.
After the girl realized it was OK to talk with this weird stranger, we discussed the wonderful things she got at Disney—especially her beautiful dress. We talked about how Mommy and Daddy know what is best when they say “no.” We exchanged hugs. I told her mommy what a great mommy she was. My husband was relieved to see smiles from me and the other bathroom visitors. I got the unexpected gift of connecting with complete strangers through singing—singing I’d felt compelled to share.
Easter is the story of God’s prodigal love for us—a lavish, generous, undaunted love. Easter’s story, like a song, breaks into our Good Friday traumas and Holy Saturday unknowns. It overcomes tantrums from unrealized expectations. It quells sobbing when we assume the worst at the empty tomb.
Found in the most unexpected places, in the strangest circumstances, with the most unlikely people, the simple song of God’s prodigal love overcomes seemingly impenetrable walls. Take it from Martin Luther, who wrote in his commentary on the song of the seraphs, the Sanctus in Isaiah 6: “As long as we live, there is never enough singing” (Luther’s Works, Concordia and Fortress Press, J. Pelikan, Ed., 1968, p. 79). Christ’s abundant, life-giving love is the song that compels us. And even simple, ordinary ABCs can allow us to proclaim, “Holy, holy, holy is God; the whole earth is full of God’s glory.”
There is never enough singing!
The Rev. Betty E. Landis has served as an ELCA pastor in the Metropolitan Chicago and Allegheny synods.
This article is from the May 2018 issue of Gather magazine. To read the full story or more like it, subscribe to Gather.
Thank you Rev. Landis for a beautiful story. I love your descriptive words and the application of your story with God’s story. I instantly recalled being in a similar circumstance… last May I was at my 98-year old mother’s side in a small midwest hospital following surgery for her broken hip. One late evening tornado sirens blared and staff began immediately to move patients into interior rooms. We were sequestered with two other patients, one a young girl with developmental delays. Like the girl in your story, she was screeching and holding onto a stuffed bear for dear life. Nothing her attending nurse or mother said would calm her. Unexpectedly and suddenly I found myself singing “The wheels on the bus go round and round…” (I wondered in what memory bank that had been stored?) Our young patient became quiet and began humming along. Soon my mother stopped her very fervent praying and joined in the singing too. Before long our small intergenerational choir of voices was making up silly words to the familiar tune and shrieks of fear turned to giggles as the storm raged outside. [The next day a nurse located me in my mother’s room to thank the “singing” lady.]
Rev. Landis, thank you for the reminder of the power of singing – anywhere and any time.
What a lovely story and a great inspiration. Many times I have accounted this situation, went through it years ago with my own children. Have to remember it the next time I am in this situation, with my memory still good of the old favorite church children songs and then of course the old favorite “the A! B C’s or Wheels on the Bus”. I loved this story and will pass it on. Blessings this day!