[Well, this is it. I'm sad to see this story end; it's been a hoot to write. Thanks for reading along. I'd love to hear what you think about the ending. I'll shut up so you can read.]
And then it was time. The Randall family rose and single-filed up the aisle to the front of the sanctuary. This year, Rev. O'Neill had arranged the Advent wreath on the communion table; a circle of green nestled above the etching this do in remembrance of me. Meggie's family reached the table and Rev. O'Neill handed John Randall the reading Bible. He usually stood beside those he'd asked to read the scriptures, signing, as was his custom. Today however, for some reason, Paul O'Neill took a front row seat.
John Randall straightened his glasses and briefly became the voice of the prophet Isaiah: he has sent me to bring good news... The Bible then passed to Susan, who read from Thessalonians: Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances...
In a rather unorthodox move, Rev. O'Neill had asked Lori to read the Gospel, words usually reserved for the pastor's voice. John Randall gathered up his youngest daughter in his arms so she might be seen and heard. As Lori began, Meggie lit the third candle: My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. Then Meggie saw what only close observation could reveal; she saw the thorns.
Rev. O'Neill had subtly woven the Easter-crown-of-thorns into the Christmas wreath. The thorns were the confirmation Meggie needed, the prick of the voice from her dream: sing.
As the rose-colored candle slowly burned to life, Meggie Randall closed her eyes and smiled. She had found her thorn tree and she knew what she must do. With the voice of a child with broken ears, Meggie began singing:
Rows and flows of angel hair
And ice cream castles in the air
And feather canyons everywhere
I've looked at clouds that way
But now they only block the sun
They rain and snow on everyone
So many things I would have done
But clouds got in my way
I've looked at clouds from both sides now
From up and down, and still somehow
It's cloud illusions I recall
I really don't know clouds at all
It was as if the whole world stilled to listen.
Meggie opened her eyes, assured that she had paid her life for the song and passed over into some facet of eternity. But the thorn bird hadn't died. She was still sandwiched between her parents, in their church, on the third Sunday of Advent. The congregation sitting before her was slack-jawed with wonder. Rev. O'Neill, front and center, was grinning from ear to ear.
There are moments in our lives dictated by an ethic of necessity: we must do something. Such was this moment for Meggie, but also for the woman who gave her life. Susan Randall realized she must live up to the word most people described her by: strong. She stroked Meggie's hair to get her attention and then she signed: I'll sing with you, Meg. And sing they did:
Moons and Junes and Ferris wheels
The dizzy dancing way you feel
As ev'ry fairy tale comes real
I've looked at love that way
But now it's just another show
You leave 'em laughing when you go
And if you care, don't let them know
Don't give yourself away
I've looked at love from both sides now
From give and take, and still somehow
It's love's illusions I recall
I really don't know love at all
As Meggie and Susan sang, John Randall stood spellbound. He then remembered the lines from The Thorn Birds, lines that explained what the legend meant: That the best is only bought at the cost of great pain. He suddenly realized the scriptural words were not the focus of Gaudete Sunday; they were merely the means to the music, the backroads to joy.
Rev. Paul O'Neill rose from his front row seat and made his way to stand beside the Randall family. He spoke and signed, as was his custom:My good friends, Meggie Randall has introduced a new hymn into our Advent season. Frankly, I believe she's made a wonderful choice. I invite you to stand with us and sing. You may not know the words, but I bet you know the song. And at least in one church on earth, on Gaudete Sunday, Isaiah and Paul had to share the stage with Joni Mitchell. The voices were nothing short of glorious:
Tears and fears and feeling proud
To say "I love you" right out loud
Dreams and schemes and circus crowds
I've looked at life that way
But now old friends are acting strange
They shake their heads, they say I've changed
Well something's lost, but something's gained
In living every day.
And then it was silent. Rev. O'Neill signed amen and the moment came to a close. The Randall family and the congregation found their seats. Paul O'Neill scrapped his planned message; sometimes, you know what you must do. He spoke instead from the hip about the truth of last lines: Well something's lost, but something's gained in living every day. God in his heaven smiled.
This would not be Meggie Randall's last winter; she would live to see seventy more. She would never forget the rose-colored waiting season of her thirteenth year. She had witnessed a birth, they all had; the difference between hearing and listening. And like God's grace, it was enough. No, it was more than sufficient; it was beautiful.