Today’s Short Story

Continuing with a throwback to 10 years ago when I published my first book, Lunch Hour, a book of short stories and essays.

Angels We Have Heard

My mother and I go to church every Sunday. It’s a nice church with a somewhat conservative message and a mass like I remember as a kid. Although the mass is not in Latin, we still celebrate the mass with all of what people might call pomp and circumstance. There is a processional at the beginning of the mass with incense and at least two deacons in support of the monsignor. We don’t skimp on prayer and sing the Gloria, the Kyrie and the responses.

Not all of our masses at the church are like this. The evening youth mass is a high-spirited event with a youth choir, complete with an electric bass, amplified guitars, drums and even a bongo boy. The early morning masses are more reserved and the Spanish mass is well attended by all cultures, but my favorite is the high mass mid-morning on Sunday.

People tend to be a bit more respectful at this mass. They genuflect and bow at the proper times and dress appropriately. They listen attentively to the word of God and don’t chatter during the sermon, which is always reassuring, thought provoking and challenging. Parents at this mass lead their children by example, gently but firmly explaining the solemnity of the mass and it importance, and the children…oh…they are so precious stumbling through their prayers, exchanging the sign of peace and, for the most part, sitting peacefully, hands folded in prayer.

Nearly everybody sings along with our wonderful choir. It’s a proper choir, talented individuals, all, with a passion for sacred music. The choirmaster is a wonderful organist who has peopled his choir with the perfect balance of sopranos, altos, tenors and a booming basso profundo. Rumor has it that we even have an atheist as part of the high mass choir because of his great love for sacred music and the way it is properly executed by this choir. If you ever heard them, you would not doubt that this is possible.

All in all, this is a near perfect mass. There are the occasional distractions of a crying baby or a football jersey in place of a collared shirt. Unfortunately, I tend to obsess on these things. If someone is squirming in their seat or not paying attention the way I think that they should be, it breaks my concentration. I begin to lose focus and find it hard to pray with humility, listen attentively and open my heart to the message. If I’m not careful, my mind can drift away to other things, from past love affairs to favorite songs. I don’t really believe in all that ADD stuff, I just think that I never made a habit of paying attention.

            Sometimes I am distracted by the smallest things; lint on the back of someone’s jacket or an errant hair out of place on the person in front of me. It is at this time that I close my eyes and do my best to concentrate.

Last week, though, I couldn’t escape the distraction. It was audio in nature and try as I might, I was pulled away time and time again by the choir’s vocals. The choir’s microphones are run through a soundboard to enhance the sound of the vocals, to give them a fuller sound, what my band mate would call “wetter”. Adding reverb or echo to the vocals makes the choir sound bigger than it actually is, and for a large church like ours, this is practical and even desired.

On this Sunday, however, the reverb was too hot. For most people, this would not be an issue, but as an audio engineer, I kept wanting to walk up to the front of the church and fix the problem. Most distracting was when the choir came to the end of a phase or a song. Their voices would linger a full second after the note ended in a ghostly echo of the hymn. It was maddening.

I closed my eyes as tightly as I could, hoping that this would somehow keep the audio from entering my ears. I sang louder than usual in an attempt to drown the choir out. All I did was succeed in scaring the little girl in the pew in front of me. By the end of the mass, I was not just distracted, I was angry. Couldn’t the choirmaster hear that? Why wouldn’t he fix the problem? Was he trying to make us all crazy?

As the final strains of the recessional hymn drifted over my head, I genuflected and crossed myself all the while resisting the impulse to head to the front of the church for an informal technical discussion with the choirmaster. If I did that, I would become like every other old coot with too much time on his hands during retirement. I let my mother out of the pew and quietly followed her to the side exit.

Once we got into the sunshine of God’s wonderful fall morning, I noticed a tear on her cheek. I though perhaps she was having trouble with her back again. “Are you alright?” I asked.

“Did you hear it?” she said

“Hear what?

“The angels singing.” Her face was full of the joy. She had been witness to something extraordinary. God had allowed her to experience a small bit of heaven. I never told her what I heard, because, honestly, who’s to say that I didn’t ignore the gift that God offered that day. Angels? Absolutely.

Copyright 2012 and 2022 by Jose Antonio Ponce