From Chicken Soup for the Volunteer's Soul

Don’t You Just Feel Like Singing?

Humor is, in fact, a prelude to faith, and laughter is the beginning of prayer.

Reinhold Niebuhr

According to Westlake Lutheran Church’s tradition, our small but spirited band of off-tune singers left the church for a night of singing and good cheer for the sick members of our church. But it was quickly apparent that, because few were sick this year, we’d be back to the cider and cookies all too soon. It was time for some merry magic to weave an insightful strategy.

After finishing our repertoire of songs at the last home, our group of teens and good-natured sponsors huddled together at my request. “I’ve a got a crazy idea,” I said. “Let’s go caroling at the supermarket.”

The blank stares of the teens were matched only by the alarming and skeptical look of my wife. Not one for making a scene in public, particularly in her market, she was ready with a quick veto. But before she could speak, I shared the rest of my plan.

“No,” I said, “it won’t be our usual caroling experience.” My voice turned almost secretive as if plotting a fiendish act. “Each of us goes into the market alone. We each take a cart and march through the store. Then we meet in the fruits-and-nuts section.” The kids were excited, but my wife’s expression said otherwise.

My voice picking up speed as the plan emerged, I continued, “We meet in the produce section. Then I’ll turn to you and shout, ‘Don’t you just feel like singing?’ Then so as not to leave me alone and looking like a fool, you say, ‘Yes!’ At that precise moment, we break into song with ‘We Wish You a Merry Christmas’!” That seemed to be the only song we were able to hit on key with any regularity.

Before my wife could turn the tide, we were off to Von’s market with a renewed sense of mission. We wandered the aisles with our empty carts, trying to look normal. My wife, on the other hand, chose to wander a bit further away, hoping not to be identified with this band of crazy Lutherans.

Although my plan was well thought-out, I was not prepared for the multitude of shoppers already in the fruits-and-nuts section.

There is no way this is going to be a clean performance, I thought. There are too many unsuspecting shoppers in the way to gather our throng of singers. I looked across the aisle at my wife, whose look reflected more horror than support. The teens were confused and unsure of what to do. Wearing my “Just Do It!” sneakers, I knew there was only one alternative— stick to the plan.

My enthusiastic question reached the ears of a woman in front of me, right about the time her hand reached a ripe tomato. With as much sincerity and Christmas cheer as I could muster, I looked her in the eye and asked, “Don’t you just feel like singing?” The woman recoiled as if attacked, and the unsuspecting tomato fell victim to her death grip.

She looked confused, as if trying to figure out whether I was a mad-hatter or serial killer. As a somewhat shocked and strained smile appeared on her lips, she uttered cautiously, “Well . . . yes!”

With her guarded approval, I turned to the throng in the produce section. With arms open wide, I asked, “Don’t the rest of you just feel like singing?”

As the voices of our small but spirited band of off-tune singers blended with the glassy-eyed crowd, they shouted, “Yes!” in unison.

At my direction, we all turned and faced the checkout lines, singing, “We wish you a Merry Christmas, We wish you a Merry Christmas, We wish you a Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year!”

In a flash, like elves scurrying for cover, our merry band left our carts and immediately ran for the doors, leaving the explanations to the puzzled participants.

Today, many of those young people now work in church groups across the country. We still get an occasional call from a “teen”—now in an older person’s body— who will leave a message on our answering machine: “We did a Von’s!”

These are the best memories of all.

Terry Paulson, Ph.D.

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