(I first posted this one a year ago, just as I was on the brink of saying good-bye to the working world. It’s a favorite. The sentiments have not changed a bit.)
I’ll bet you’re awfully busy, what with Christmas just four days away. And yet you’ve stopped by to visit us. I am filled with gratitude. Let me give you something in return.
Some years back I hailed a cab outside the building where I worked on Capitol Hill. It’s just a 10-minute walk to Union Station, but it was mid-December and cold and I was in a hurry to catch a train to New York. I had a conference to attend. I’d be speaking. My mind was full of thoughts about the trip and the reception I’d be getting. I was what you’d call “focused.”
The cabbie was an older guy, an African American, which is unusual since most cabbies around here are newcomers to America, talking into their cell phones in foreign tongues. This man was old-school, a local. We were chatting about the holidays within, oh, half a minute.
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And then “Silent Night” came on. Not one of the many versions you hardly notice since you’ve heard them so many times, but something special. Something that made you listen. It started out with a bass voice saying, “It was the night before Christmas, and all through the house…” And soon thereafter, the traditional melody and words kicked in, the gospel harmonies, the sweetness. It was, indeed, pure gospel. But it was, also, purest Motown.
“Who is that?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” the cabbie said. “But the young, these days they’re missing out on this kind of music.”
We listened. It was still playing when we pulled up in front of the station.
“You mind if I wait?” I asked. “I want to know who’s singing.”
He was fine with that. It was a nice moment. And when the song neared the end the lead singer improvised over the melody of “Silent Night”:
What a joyous day.
As I sit around by the fireplace,
Watching the greenest tree,
If I had one wish in this world,
It would be that all men would be free.
Let’s all hold hands
And celebrate the Savior’s birth.
And then he sang:
Just sleep and relax your mind.
To all our family and friends
I want you to remember this line.
Merry Christmas and we mean it.
And then the bass singer said, “Merry Christmas from the Temptations.”
“I knew that,” the cabbie said.
He grinned at me. I grinned back. I paid him for the ride. Then he and I shook hands. I made my train, but who was still thinking about things like that?
A Merry, Merry Christmas from your blogging friends at 317am.net.