The concert-goers at the University of Hawaii Hilo’s 2017 holiday program, their faces wreathed in smiles, stepped into the UHH Performing Arts Center filled with the season’s good cheer, confident that the next few hours of choral grandeur and Christmas carols would fill their ears, hearts and souls with satisfying yuletide entertainment. As had been the case year after year after year.

My parents, often accompanied by their oldest grandchild, were among the Big Islanders who made the UHH Holiday Concert a “must-do” on their list of annual Christmas traditions for the family.

Last month, it was my first time attending the UHH Holiday Concert, and I was alone. Mom passed in February, and Dad is a nursing home resident on the Big Island.

The pink-lit stage picture was taken during the 2017 UHH Holiday Concert last month. Carolyn Ayon Lee

My joy over the beautiful music and singing was bittersweet because my parents weren’t with me. But being in the same venue that they had faithfully attended once a year for this program was comforting. And for my fellow audience members, I could see that they spotted familiar faces, and in a way, all of us in the audience became, temporarily, a giant family, gathered together from all parts of the Big Island for this show.

Still, in writing this, the memories conjured up are making me cry more than I did the entire day of my mother’s funeral 10 months ago.

Peace And Joy

In attending the multitude of seasonal festivities this month, those of us without beloved family at our side will surely notice a forging of a “temporary” ohana because of the warm feelings generated by our shared appreciation of the performers’ magic.

Just listening to the music from a live concert can transport you into a world of peace and joy. 

Try it: Here is a 5-minute excerpt from the UHH concert in late November, recorded on my smartphone, of “The First Noel / Pachelbel’s Canon,” a “sing-along” medley conducted by UHH Professor Amy Horst, accompanied on the piano by Walter Greenwood, and several choral groups:

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So if you, like me, are an  “orphan” this holiday season, seek the blessings of music, theater, the movies — preferably, live performances in which you feel ties of camaraderie created amongst the audience as you witness the performing arts event together, in real time.

Last month and this month, I observed what I’ve labeled the “Ohana Effect,” at every concert and performance I attended: the interfaith service at Honpa Hongwanji Hilo Betsuin, a Buddhist temple, to raise funds to help the Big Island homeless; the annual holiday concert at First United Protestant Church, a United Church of Christ church, presented by the Hilo Community Chorus, conducted by Tom McAlexander; a “Messiah Sing-Along” at Christ Lutheran Church, conducted by McAlexander; and the 100th anniversary memorial funeral service in honor of Queen Liliuokalani, held at Church of the Holy Apostles, an Episcopal church.

The author’s parents: David Lee and Song Soon Ann Park Lee. Carolyn Ayon Lee

One day, during her daily walk at Coconut Island in Hilo, I at her side during this visit home on vacation a decade ago, Mom recited this poem by Leigh Hunt called “Abou Ben Adhem.” I recall how dumbfounded I was that my 80-something-year-old mother had committed to memory such a long poem, which I myself had come across just once, a long, long time ago:

   “Abou Ben Adhem (may his tribe increase!) 

    Awoke one night from a deep dream of peace, 

    And saw, within the moonlight in his room, 

    Making it rich, and like a lily in bloom, 

    An angel writing in a book of gold:— 

    Exceeding peace had made Ben Adhem bold, 

    And to the presence in the room he said, 

    ‘What writest thou?’—The vision raised its head, 

    And with a look made of all sweet accord, 

    Answered, ‘The names of those who love the Lord.’

    ‘And is mine one?’ said Abou. ‘Nay, not so,’ 

    Replied the angel. Abou spoke more low, 

    But cheerly still; and said, ‘I pray thee, then, 

    Write me as one that loves his fellow men.’ 

    The angel wrote, and vanished. The next night  

    It came again with a great wakening light, 

    And showed the names whom love of God had blest, 

    And lo! Ben Adhem’s name led all the rest.”

I have no doubt that my mother’s name, Song Soon Ann Park Lee, is listed at the head of the line of those who have a deep, abiding love for the Heavenly Father.

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