I was able to bring Chinese takeout Ito BARC for María on Thursday, as the rest of her household was preparing for dinner. The twelve women residents arrive back from their day programs around 4 each afternoon. There are meds to take, showers to have, clothes to fold, for those who are able. Others simply sit in one or the other of the common spaces. Starting that set of routines is one transition and the second one moves them into the evening meal.
This is normally a period of contained chaos—I can only speak for our own experience with our daughter but transitions are always tough for her and it seems like that holds true for the rest of her housemates. MarÍa is one of the most functional members of the house and most of the other residents are non-verbal. A couple, though unable to speak, do vocalize, sometimes very loudly.
The staff, women who mostly come from Caribbean islands, are totally engaged and alert during this time. They coax, direct, challenge, redirect, compliment, have micro-conversations, with 12 people with varying degrees of need, ability and internal resources. This all goes down in a relatively short amount of time. I can only imagine how tired the women who serve the residents of A House must be when they get done with their work. And what always gives me a knot in my throat is how affectionate and genuine they are with such vulnerable and complicated people.
Thursday evening was no different than many other nights I’ve been there, except there was an audio speaker pouring out Christmas music. I’m not sure if this was a Spotify playlist, or a radio station, or what. All I know is, after “Here Comes Santa Claus,” the tenor and tone changed dramatically. An orchestra started playing and the voice of a soloist intoned the first notes of “O Holy Night.” María’s home, A House, became unexpectedly quiet and then, the staff and residents spontaneously began to sing along with the voice coming from the speaker. You had to be there to observe the non-verbal residents sing as they were able. Some quietly kept the beat with their bodies, other croaked or hummed along, no real ‘melody’ as we would define it, but undoubtedly, a song. It was all of them. Every single one of those twenty or so women sang their hearts out.
I was spellbound. What was it about that piece that knit this group of people together like this? How astounding, to watch music not just transcend limitation, but transform it into something holy, and pure and just extraordinarily beautiful. This is incarnation. This is what it means to be human.