Saturday, December 23, 2006

advent journal: I sang for my president

My favorite caroling memory happened when I was in fifth grade in Lusaka, Zambia. Christmas came in the summer there, so we sang in shorts – actually, our Wolf Cub uniforms. Our den mother announced that we were going caroling at State House, the presidential residence. We practiced hard to sound good. None of our voices had changed, so we did our best Vienna Boys Choir impersonation. I was a first soprano and can still remember the descant on “The First Noel.”

A couple of nights before Christmas, we walked up to the front door of the home of President Kenneth Kaunda and our den mother rang the bell. The president and Betty, his wife answered the door (they did know we were coming) and we began to sing. Zambia had only been independent for a little more than a year, so seeing him was seeing someone larger than life: this was the man who led us to independence. Now he was listening to us sing “Joy to the World.”

After we finished singing, President and Mrs. Kaunda invited us inside for tea and biscuits (which is British for cookies). We sat in a parlor with our president having snacks. Then he said, “You have sung for us about the birth of Jesus Christ. Now I would like to sing for you of my faith.” He sat down at the piano and played and sang “The Lord is My Shepherd.”

Not long after we moved to Marshfield, I was listening to The Connection, a call-in show on NPR and Dick Gordon announced that Kenneth Kaunda was his guest. I dialed the number and one of the producers answered. “I grew up in Zambia and would love to just say a word of appreciation to him,” I said.

“Well,” she replied, “as much as I would love to let you do that, this is a radio show and you’re going to have to make it more interesting.”

I told her the story and she asked me to hold. The next voice I heard was Dick Gordon saying, “Our first caller is Milton from Marshfield. Go ahead, Milton.”

I recounted that night to a man I consider one of my real life heroes and he remembered it. All these years later, I had the chance to thank him for that night and for the life of integrity and faith he has lived. Most of Africa has never gotten to experience much beyond What Might Have Been. The population of Zambia today is nearly forty percent HIV positive. Through both hope and adversity, Kaunda has shown himself to be a person of tenacious faith who has incarnated love and compassion.

One of the songs we sang that night is an odd British carol that I learned to love. The king in the story reminds me of the man I first knew as President.

Good King Wenceslas looked out
On the feast of Stephen

When the snow lay round about

Deep and crisp and even

Brightly shone the moon that night

Though the frost was cruel

When a poor man came in sight
Gath'ring winter fuel

"Hither, page, and stand by me

If thou know'st it, telling

Yonder peasant, who is he?

Where and what his dwelling?"

"Sire, he lives a good league hence

Underneath the mountain

Right against the forest fence

By Saint Agnes' fountain."

"Bring me flesh and bring me wine

Bring me pine logs hither

Thou and I will see him dine

When we bear him thither."

Page and monarch forth they went

Forth they went together

Through the rude wind's wild lament

And the bitter weather

"Sire, the night is darker now

And the wind blows stronger

Fails my heart, I know not how,
I can go no longer."
"Mark my footsteps, my good page

Tread thou in them boldly

Thou shalt find the winter's rage

Freeze thy blood less coldly."

In his master's steps he trod

Where the snow lay dinted

Heat was in the very sod

Which the Saint had printed

Therefore, Christians all be sure

Wealth or rank possessing

Ye who now will bless the poor

Shall yourselves find blessing


Brett said...

Marvellous story. What a treat to have done this--and now years later, what a treat to remember a leader like this.

Anonymous said...

Life coming back full circle. What a joy!

Merry Christmas, Milton, and .......peace to you.
Bill Hill

P.S. Jeremy Everett asked me to say hello for him.

Africakid said...

I had no idea that Kaunda was such a man of integrity. Thanks for sharing your experience!

And frohe Weihnachten from Germany.

gander said...

You have the coolest life, man. :)

Merry Christmas (again).

SpookyRach said...

So cool!