I was thinking of the Japanese concept of ichi-go ichi-e today, which means “one-time, one meeting” or “one chance in a lifetime”. As I sit with a group of friends and acquaintances at a friend’s house, mingling our voices in Christmas carols, I am impressed with this unique group, this unique time. I try to be present in the moment, realizing how this exact mix of voices has never happened before and will never happen again.
My friend Mina invited us to her house. We are amazed at everything she has prepared for us, but she just smiles and says, “I can’t think of anything I’d rather celebrate than Jesus’s birthday.” And boy, did she prepare an event for us. She even worked with her daughter, a patient of mine who runs a restaurant, to rent enough chairs for us all. There is a book of selected carols on each place, and a program for the evening. I’ve chatted with Fiona, a long-time colleague who runs our city’s healthcare professional journal club, as well as a pediatrician I’ve just met who has been in the city off and on for four years. We talked about challenges and opportunities in healthcare, and then we join our voices in song.
One of our first songs is “ding dong merrily on high.” I think about the first time that I sang this, while I was in chorale in college. I thought I was so mature at that time. My biggest worries were getting A’s in chemistry, physics, and biology during the same semester. That was the season my friend Rachel and I sang “Physics…oh what a horrible class” to go along with another Christmas tune. It was during this week in December, 19 years ago, that Greg and I went on our first date. I wonder what I would think of my life now, so many years later. I wonder if I have allowed my vision of the future to grow just as I have grown.
Our vet Christine is here, she has struggled to keep her business afloat with the 40% devaluation this month. Several of my patients are here, many of them are my friends at this point, but I forget some names if I’ve only seen them in clinic and now they are here without their health cards to jog my memory. There’s an acquaintance who struggles with stress, just like me, and another who is a counselor, everyone’s first choice for a referral. There’s Martin who is helping Greg with agricultural training, and others who I’ve never met before.
We sing Little Town of Bethlehem to a tune I don’t recognize. It reminds me of times we have gone down to Ensenada to sing Christmas carols with our partner churches while I was growing up. Even as I sing in English, I think, “Oh, aldehuela de Belén.” My friend Roberta leads the singing, belting out Holy Night beautifully. She says she used to do that ten times a season when she was a professional opera singer. Roberta was supposed to be my roommate for a whirlwind tour of Israel with flights leaving tonight. I think how strange it is that we are here instead. We were supposed to be in Israel until the first Shabbat of Chanukah, but instead, we are welcoming Christmas together. I’m not sure what to make about it, but I try to appreciate this time.
We sing “Hark the Harold Angels” and on the third verse I remember the duet I did at church in 3rd grade at church with Carly. I never really learned how to sing on key, but I have always enjoyed trying. I love how my voice this time melds in with all the others, but still stands out in my ear. I love singing next to Greg as he keeps up the portion of “Good King Wenceslas” with all the other men in the room.
I enjoy the night, praising God and thinking about Christmas coming. I love that we are in the tropics, in a relatively safe place, from so many cultures and backgrounds. I realize that this same collection of people may never gather again, but I still feel like we are doing something that will have ripples and perhaps reunions in eternity. I’m still new to being mindful and being in the present. But it is fun how music and fellowship can bring me back to other times and places.