Authors: Christine Bush
The costumes were made. Paintbrushes were flying each day after school as the scenery for the pageant came to life. Flyers and posters had been distributed all over the neighborhood. The community had been invited and they were responding with enthusiasm.
The excitement level at the school grew daily, making it a challenge to keep the classroom curriculum in focus. But Daisy loved the challenge of the classroom time. She loved seeing her students grow in their reading abilities, their math skills, their self control. She loved seeing them bond and communicate with each other. And to tell the truth, she loved the break from the Christmas music and holiday air at rehearsal time.
Her classroom was her safe place.
She was facing it. Each day, she would grit her teeth, take a deep breath, and bring as much enthusiasm as she could muster to rehearsal.
But the truth was, each time Miss Gracie would bang out the chord for the each carol to begin, Daisy could actually feel her heart rate increase. At times, her hands shook. Her stomach was in a perpetual knot. She simply dreaded Christmas, and everything that was a symbol of it. And the music was a symbol that permeated her very soul. It hurt.
But she kept on. She did it mostly for the kids
, despite the emotional upheaval. There was joy on their faces as they worked on each song, often out of key. The laughter and excitement was a great motivator as they acted out their parts. But she also did it for Ben. She loved to see the grin on his face as he directed each scene. The pageant meant a lot to New Horizons, and New Horizons meant everything to Dr. Benjamin Wilson. And as the days went on, it meant a lot to Daisy too.
And when things didn’t go exactly well, like when the over exuberant shepherds knocked over the wall of the stable in their unbridled excitement to see the baby Jesus, she watched him run his hands through his already unruly curly hair in exasperation. His concern was always evident. And his tolerance and self control were Olympic. He simply loved the kids, and that was clear. It warmed her heart, and almost made up for the Christmas stress
Daisy and Alexandra had bonded with little Hannah through the rehearsals, often without words. She’d enter the rehearsal
space hanging on to Alexandra’s hand for dear life, overwhelmed by the hustle and bustle of the stage and noisy cast as they began. When it was time for the angels to enter the stage at an early scene in the pageant, it was Alexandra’s turn to feel fear, and she’d turn to Daisy with a face drained white by her anxiety.
And Daisy would swallow her own pain, and step to the other side of Hannah, and the angel trio
would step onto the stage to join the other multitude of singers in the angel choir. The angel songs were sung as a group, and they worked their way through “Oh Little Town of Bethlehem”, “Silent Night”, and “ O Holy Night”. In the large crowd, no one seemed to notice Alexandra stood silently on one side of Hannah, who was singing joyously at the top of her lungs, once she got started. Daisy stood on the other side, trying to mouth the words to do her duty, but well aware her lackluster voice wasn’t adding much to the angel choir. But they were there.
Occasionally, she noticed Ben watching her curiously, his brow f
urrowed with concern , watching her reaction. She constantly aimed to look calm and normal, and though most people seemed not to notice her stress, she had a strong feeling it was obvious to him. But on she went. Each day, the pageant went smoother.
The angels sang.
The babe was born. The shepherds arrived, and Peter, one of the teens with a great voice and courage to match, sang “The Little Drummer Boy”, complete with bongo drum. The three kings made their appearance. The trio of middle schoolers sang “We Three Kings of Orient Are”, with great stamina, even if slightly off key.
“I don’t think we should bring these dumb gifts to the baby,” complained Mario, one of the kings. “What kid really wants
Frankincense for Christmas?”
“”Yeah, man,” grumbled Jarrett, king number two. “I think we should give him an Xbox. Or maybe an IPod.”
There was great discussion of the appropriateness of the
gifts of Frankincense and Myrrh. Eventually, they conceded they would accept to do the pageant as written. And rehearsals went on.
The final song of the pageant was planned to be “Angels We Have Heard on High”, sung by the wh
ole cast, and featuring the angels. At the final rehearsal, when they had added costumes, props, and a giant spotlight, run carefully by Mr. Andy at the back of the audience, they were still working out the details, and there was more than a bit of chaos.
“Everybody, this is it,” commanded Ben to his staff and students. “On stage for the finale. This is the last scene, and we want to leave
everybody with a great feeling of peace and good will.”
Which was not exactly the tone of the minute. The kids were all over the place, flapping angel wings, banging bongos, and two shepherds were having a sword fight with their curved shepherds’ crocks.
In slight desperation, Miss Gracie began the chords to the final song, which could barely be heard over the excited din. Mr. Ben clapped his hands to get everyone’s attention. The cast finally moved to their places. But only a few angels joined in for the first few lines.
“Angels we have heard on high, sweetly singing over the plains.
And the mountains in reply, echoing their joyous strains…”
Sensing they were singing alone, the singing angels paused.
As they stopped singing, the room suddenly became silent, except for the tinkling notes of Miss Gracie’s piano. And one lone voice.
Little Hannah, feeling safe while flanked by Daisy and Alexandra, her two protectors, had begun singing exuberantly with the crowd. And into the sudden quiet, her little voice went on…
In excelcius Deo,
In excelcius Deo..
Hannah’s little voice echoed through the silence,
its clear childlike tones sounding like a heavenly gift. Everyone froze, including Miss Gracie at the piano.
There was a long soundless moment.
“Wow, that was cool,” whispered Tyrone in a gruff whisper into the silence.
And then the whole room broke into applause and hoots of appreciation.
“That was great, Hannah.”
“Sounded like an angel!”
The little girl’s face creased into a wide joyful smile. She clenched her hands together, almost as if in prayer. “That was so fun!” She squealed in an exuberant voice.
“We should do that song like that,” said Maria, holding up her Raggedy Ann doll baby Jesus. “Hannah should sing the chorus to the baby Jesus, and that’s a fact.”
Ben stepped up on the stage and laid a gentle hand on her shoulder. Hannah tilted her had back and looked up at him in awe.
“That was really fantastic, Hannah! Do you want to sing a solo for the chorus? It’s up to you..”
The little girl squeezed Daisy’s hand with surprising strength. She nodded with hesitation. “Okay. I can do it as long as I have Miss Daisy and Alexandra with me.” She looked back and forth at her two supporting angels.
“Sounds good to me,” said Daisy with an unexpected tug on her heart. She was so proud of little Hannah. She was so awed by her courage and her enthusiasm for life, even after all the loss she had experienced in her short seven years.
Alexandra nodded too, still not speaking a word.
“Well, let’s do it then,” said Ben
in a happy voice.
Daisy’s gaze locked with Ben’s as he stood in front of the cast assembled on the stage, arms raised to direct the song. She could read his enthusiasm for the pageant as he worked. And she could feel his caring and concern as he looked into her eyes, discerning her feelings, checking on her anxiety level. She tried to smile back, well aware the expression was forced. He smiled back, understanding. It was affirming to know he watched her, even if embarrassing. What kind of person got so stressed out over the sound of Christmas music?
Daisy sighed, looking at little Hannah beside her, and then Alexandra standing nervously on Hannah’s other side. Only for these two dear students would she put herself through this. And for Ben. She looked out at Ben again, the pride in his excited students practically radiating out of him. He loved New Horizons, this amazing little school that gave so many students second chances.
came to order on the stage, and the song was rehearsed again. The whole group sang the first verse, “Angels We Have Heard on High…” It was powerful.
When they got to the chorus, Hannah hesitated a beat,
nervousness showing. But then she opened her mouth, and jumped in. Her eyes were wide, and she kept her death grip on Daisy’s hand. This time through, realizing she was in the spotlight, she was a little self conscious. But like the trooper she obviously was, she threw herself into the chorus, her voice filling the room.
Gloorrr- orrrr- orrr- I- a. In Excelcius Deo……
The whole cast
sang the next verse and the last chorus together. The carol ended with a breathtaking finale. When the last note rang, the group stood silently on stage.
The silence was palpable, like the whole cast was holding their collective breath. And then they burst into a collective cheer, applauding, hooting and hollering.
Daisy closed her eyes, aware of the cascade of feelings that ran through her heart, so strong they even reverberated through her body. She felt the beauty of the song. She felt the joy and courage of the little girl hanging onto her hand. She also felt an unexpected glimmer of her old Christmas spirit, that ancient childish excitement she had felt for so much of her childhood. But immediately upon realizing it, the feeling was scary, and uncomfortable, ripping at her heart. And like a door shutting firmly in her mind, the feeling was blocked out as quickly as it had come. And then she felt only the much more recent and familiar feeling of loss and pain. Her knees felt suddenly weak, and her throat closed. Her aversion to Christmas flowed through her like a flood, washing out the good feelings, and leaving more devastation than she knew what to do with in its path.
Ben stood in front of the stage, directing the final song of the last dress rehearsal. He felt a surge of pride fill his chest, watching the students
as they belted out their last song. Awesome.
But then, his gaze went back to Daisy, standing on the edge of the angel choir. He knew how hard it had been the past few weeks as she had been exposed to all the Christmas music and fervor. He knew she did her best. He knew she was a dedicated professional. But he knew the pageant had taken it
s toll. Her face looked drawn, there were new circles under her eyes. While he was thrilled for the kids’ experience in the pageant, and the great success for the school and the community he knew it would be, he would be glad for Daisy when the pageant and the holiday had passed.
Ben wanted her to heal. He wanted her to find peace and acceptance of her pain.
But he had no idea how to help her. He was a realist, and life had taught him a lot about grief. It took its own time. And sometimes it took forever. That was a painful thought.
With his watchful gaze, he saw the moment
where the feelings had overwhelmed her. She had been coping one minute, then ..not. The song had ended, and the cast burst into excited applause. And then he saw Daisy Donovan burst into tears. It wasn’t the loud and sobbing kind of reaction. He knew she probably hadn’t made a single sound noticeable to the happy crowd around her. But looking directly at her, seeing the pain in her eyes, the quivering of her lips, fighting hard to be stoic, he knew. And then , in the reflection from the bright spotlights trained on the stage, he could see the glistening in her eyes, and even the tracks of tears running down her pained face.
While it was easy to see the reverie and celebration of a great final rehearsal for the pageant, at that moment, his heart cared only for the blonde angel on the stage.
He watched her turn away from the crowd, and make a hasty exit off the stage and out the side door of the auditorium. He wanted to kick himself for encouraging her to take part in the pageant, no matter how much he had needed her. Ben had never, ever, wanted to cause her so much pain.
The crowd dispersed, costumes flying as they energetic students
disrobed and handed their outfits to Mr. Andy and Miss Gracie who were flinging them onto hangers, and trying to keep order.
“See you tomorrow.”
The happy kids began to leave.
“Tell your neighbors we have plenty of tickets.”
Within minutes, the stage was empty, except for the remai
ning teachers scurrying to put things in order.
“I’ll see you both tomorrow,” Ben called to his staff, as he turned on his heel and headed for the side door where Daisy had disappeared. They answered with affirmation, and he waved to them over his head, not even turning around.
He had only one thing on his mind. Where had she gone?