We have cool friends. Seriously.
Friday night, two of them hosted a Michaelmas party. The spouse and I went—with bells on. The gathering was billed as “an evening of readings and song,” and so it was.
Following a crazy-talented singer-songwriter, a number of English madrigals performed acapella, a historian, an autumnal sonnet by Lanier, and a poem by yours truly, we were treated to a speech—by a professional speechwriter, no less.
Luke Boggs pens scripts for fancy corporate folk—and hopes they stick to them. During the Michaelmas party, he killed it, if I may say so, eliciting laughter and even a few tears from the crowd—most especially his wife.
Here’s what he said:
I’m going to be honest.
I’m not really familiar with Michaelmas. I don’t know it, don’t understand it, don’t really get it.That’s despite having attended several previous such events, all hosted by the Browns. And doing fifteen long minutes of in-depth research on Wikipedia.
Say whatever else nice you want to say about them—and any of us could say a lot in that regard—but this gathering confirms the incomparable audacity of Gary and Rachel Brown. Just think about their audacity for a moment. The Browns doggedly host parties in celebration of something almost no one on this continent has ever heard of.
Honestly, does the “why” of this party even matter?
I mean, think about that moment in It’s a Wonderful Life when Uncle Billy explains what Mary has done to fix things for George. All she needed to do was to tell people that George was in trouble and needed help. No further explanation required. And people were ready to give.
I think the same thing is true in the case of this party. All any of us really needed to know was that Rachel and Gary were throwing a party. About what or in light of what occasion… those issues are metaphysically superfluous. We don’t care. So the Browns had us all at “please join us,” never mind what comes after that.
Based on my very cursory study of the subject, Michaelmas as a secular term has to do with the coming of autumn. And I’m not complaining about this, because I’m glad to be here, but I understand that those happy few—all of them foreigners, by the way—who celebrate Michaelmas do so on September 29. So we’re precisely six weeks late. Or they’re six weeks early. I’m not sure.
On the church calendar of at least some small and dwindling number of churches, Michaelmas is a celebration of angels, most prominently the Archangel Michael. On the subject of angels, one could go wander off in many directions. But I will not do so, I assure you.
I’m not going to talk about Charlie’s Angels, the Blue Angels, the Hells Angels or the angels—so called—of Victoria’s Secret.
Nor will I stray off course to touch on the minutia of bourbon production and more specifically aging, which results in some loss of the delicious nectar due to evaporation. Which is always said to be, in every tour of every rack house in every distillery in Kentucky, yes, the “angel’s share.”
I won’t be talking about Frank Sinatra’s incomparable recordings of “Angel Eyes,” one of the finest saloon songs ever written.
And I will not even be talking about my favorite fictional angels, including the inimitable and irrepressible Clarence of the aforementioned It’s a Wonderful Life.
I’m not going to talk about any of those things, I assure you again. But I will say something about angels. Something relatively serious, if I can keep it that way.
Almost every weekday of late, I take our daughter Sadie out to the bus stop at the end of the driveway. Sadie is special, as most of you know. She’s a lovely person. And frequently a delight to be around.
But she needs a lot of help, as we all do. And in more obvious ways.
While we’re waiting for the bus, I often say a prayer with Sadie. We thank God for the day, we ask Him to watch over Sadie, and we thank Him for the angels, seen and unseen, who look out for Sadie and take care of her and protect her.
Because just as there are angels invisible to us, there are just as surely angels we can see. They don’t have wings. They don’t shine like xenon high-beams. And they don’t live in heaven. Even so, there are angels among us.
Sadie has a lot of these visible angels in her life. Teachers. Para-pros. Therapists. Caregivers. Doctors. And more. And what some of them do is humbling to me to the point of embarrassment and beyond. Because while we pay Sadie’s caregivers, we can’t begin to pay them what their work is worth. Sadie’s teacher draws a paycheck. But she isn’t paid to love Sadie the way she so clearly does.
Angels can also show up fleetingly. And in unexpected places.
Recently, Sadie was having a rough afternoon. We’d gone to the grocery store around the corner, something she normally enjoys. But, this particular afternoon, she was nervous and anxious and ready for the trip to be over. Standing in the checkout line, Sadie made a loud noise. Maybe more than one. And probably jumped up and down a bit. I was focused on trying to calm Sadie down but I could see the lady checking out in front of us bristle.
We wrapped things up and went outside, accompanied by a young woman named Julie. After I’d loaded Sadie in the car and Julie had loaded the groceries in the trunk, she stopped and turned to me. Julie said she knew something about people not always being considerate, particularly with those who are different. You see, Julie walks with a limp. She has cerebral palsy. It doesn’t define her. It isn’t who she is. But she’s seen and no doubt heard some less than charitable reactions from others.
She saw how the lady shopper reacted to Sadie, even if Sadie didn’t. And she didn’t let the moment pass.
“Your daughter,” she said, “is a miracle.”
Yes, she is. And, just as surely, Julie is an angel.
A few weeks ago, Laura and I took Sadie trick-or-treating. She was dressed as a lion—her choice—but refused to wear the part over her head. Also her choice. Along the way, many of the homeowners paused a moment to give Sadie a special bit of attention or an extra piece of candy.
At one house, half-a-dozen couples were gathered around a fire. The kids were expected to come around the fire and get candy from each of the ladies. When Sadie hesitated, the women all got up and came over to us, putting candy in Sadie’s bag and complimenting her on her lion costume. They could see Sadie was special, and they didn’t want to challenge her with making the standard round-the-campfire tour.
A little while later, I could tell Sadie was getting tired. And we were almost back to my sister’s house. We passed a few houses and came to one that was particularly festive, with arched lights over the walk and tombstones and other decorations. One last stop, I thought.
We walked up on the porch, knocked on the door and waited. Over to the left, a full ashtray sat on a small table. A mostly empty plastic soda bottle held a few more cigarette butts. The door opened and a man came out. Immediately, he greeted Sadie by name—I wondered if he had a camera somewhere on the porch and had heard me talking with her. Sadie said “trick or treat” and “Happy Halloween” and the man gave her a generous handful of candy.
He asked if Sadie was okay with people touching her. Yes, I said. He placed his hand gently on the top of head. “God bless you, Sadie,” he whispered.
And, like that, we were done trick or treating.
So, all that to say, I still don’t really get Michaelmas. Which is fine. Because if Rachel and Gary are hosting, I’m here. Michaelmas or no.
And, if Michaelmas has something to do with honoring angels, seen and unseen, I’m all in.