Every summer we sing at a retirement facility where a good friend and former organist from our church currently resides. The room where the vespers service is held feels like a conference room in an upscale hotel—tastefully decorated in understated luxury complete with cushioned chairs and hideous carpet. It appeared to be deserted until I glanced up and noticed an elderly gentleman sitting in the back row with his head bowed. He looked rather dejected or perhaps he was just dozing but didn’t appear to be in any kind of physical distress. I almost felt as though our presence was infringing on a private moment. I wondered how long he had been sitting there and why. Did he just need a place to be alone for a while? Did he come too early for the service and after realizing it, just decided it was easier to stay and wait?
We warmed up and practiced with our friend and he paid us little attention, although he watched with interest as we sang during the service. Afterwards, lots of his fellow residents spoke with him and he seemed animated and engaged. Maybe, like all of us, he just needed some time to rest, to gather his strength, to think things through without anyone bothering him, before he was ready to face the world again. Maybe he just needed a place to hide out for a while. Did the service or the music rejuvenate him? Was it the pastor’s message (which was a good one) that helped lift him up from wherever he was?
Our choir director often reminds us that we never know for whom we sing. Someone may be hearing a song for the first time or they may be hearing it for the last time, and we owe it to them to give it our best effort. We never know what burdens someone is carrying or what news they received that day or how they came to be sitting in the seats in front of us. But the gifts we extend–whether it be through music or dance, spoken words or theater–may be just what that person needs to feel even the tiniest shift in their perspective. What we can offer may open a door to let a sliver of light shine through what had been an impenetrable curtain of darkness.
I will never know why that man chose to sit by himself in the last row of a large empty conference room in the late afternoon of a beautiful summer Sunday. But I do know that he appeared to be refreshed and strengthened when he left, walking unassisted into the hallway and back to his room or apartment and the life he now leads, perhaps for the first time in many years, without a beloved spouse. I was reminded that every time we perform, there is always a gentleman in the back row who needs to hear us.