Like many young people growing up in the sixties, I rejected “organized religion.” Eventually I stopped attending
church altogether, claiming I felt like a hypocrite. I had to do my own thing, a common refrain back then.
My mother, on the other hand, had an unshakeable faith. “Life goes better when you go to church,” she
repeated. Her Lutheran practice played an important role in her life. Over the years she tried to lure me back, with
no luck. I had moved to the city and my life was full. I was meeting new people, seeing new sights and participating
in new activities. I rarely gave a thought to attending church.
The years passed. My mother had a series of small strokes, the last one proving fatal. It was the Christmas season.
I went home to help and comfort my dad. After sorting through my mother’s clothes, I decided to donate them to
her church’s thrift shop. Among the sweaters and nightgowns was her favorite tweed wool coat with a fur collar, her
The volunteers at the shop graciously expressed their sympathy. “We’ll all miss Mary,” they told me. I thanked
them and headed out. In the church vestibule, I spotted a flyer about the upcoming midnight service on Christmas
Eve. My mother had attended every year. Needless to say, I always had an excuse: It was too cold, too late.
Nonetheless, for some reason I decided to attend.
Snow fell as I ascended the church steps. I thought of my mother walking up those steps and felt a deep
sadness. Inside, tall candles flickered while wind rattled the window panes. The mournful notes of the organ,
coupled with the lateness of the hour, did little to dispel my sense of melancholy. How ironic that I would be in this
church on Christmas Eve. If only my mother were with me, I thought. If only she could see me.
People arrived and took their seats, the cold air clinging to them. As it neared midnight, an elderly lady settled
into the pew directly in front of me. Something about her coat caught my eye. It was tweed, with a worn fur collar—
just like the one I’d donated to the thrift shop. A few moments later the woman slipped the coat from her
shoulders. I caught my breath. My mother always sewed strips of white elastic inside our collars to hang from hooks
in the closet. The woman’s coat had the telltale elastic strip.
At that moment the rear doors of the church swung open. The choir entered singing “Joy to the World.” I rose
with the congregation and joined them, loudly singing: “Let heaven and angels sing!”