"There's a gospel choir from BC downstairs," I told the patient as I thumbed his dilaudid into a paper cup.
"You mean BU," he said, "Think about it. Gospel from Boston College?"
"Why not?" I asked, puzzled. He took the pills and swallowed them with a grimace.
"Catholic music isn't that happy," he pointed out. "I'd know - I'm Catholic."
I grinned as I headed downstairs, remembering how my mother would often roll her eyes and ask me why the adolescent choir at St. T's never sang anything she could clap her hands to.
Down in the Atrium a modest crowd had gathered to hear the (BU) Choir sing. Another RN waved me over to where she was standing, "They just did that James Taylor song I love."
The choir launched into a spirited number with the rhythmic hook "I love you more than I did the day before." I was suddenly reminded of a day I had spent not too long ago also listening to a gospel choir - a day I never wrote down, so I made a mental note to store as many details as I could when I got home.
We were in the tent. By 'we' I mean myself, the other RN, the two interpreters, the 36 patients, and 20+ family members I had grown accustomed to sharing space with. The air was buzzing, not just with talking but with the noise of music being played over amplifiers.
"You coming with me," said one of the patients I was closest to - a 21 year old with post quake bilateral above the knee amputations*, a wicked grin and a penchant for wheelies.
"Where?" I asked.
"To the program!" he answered and flashed that smile I had begun to count on to punctuate everything he said.
I declined, and away he rolled, all style and flair. I moved on the task of finding a thermometer.
"Hey, come on," said my translator noticing that I was standing still, "you have time and we'll go."
He took me by the arm and we exited the back of the tent. We walked along the barbed wire fence strewn with laundry, passing small children who stopped to openly stare at the blanc as we went by.
We passed the row of tents and our feet beat on the rocks as the music got louder and louder and I began to make out voices. Up past the small building for less acute Tent City patients and around a corner there was a small yard. A stage had been set up, and on stage were the same men in suits who had come into my tent to sing that morning. Off to the side there were several other groups of well dressed men warming up.
It was a Gospel Festival.
Their audience sat in old fashioned wooden desks, the kind with the chair and the wrap-around arm. They had been taken out of the school rooms and set up here. The yard was stubbed with short fat grass, but was mostly rocks and dirt. Friends assisted their wounded loved ones to navigate crutches and wheelchairs over the ground to find preferable vantage points. I spotted Mr. Smiley and his sister, but they didn't notice me.
Like everyone else they were completely wrapped up in praising and singing.
"This is the Gospel Program," the interpreter said next to my ear. I moved out of the way as two men entered the yard flanking a woman with one leg using crutches. They guarded her as she found a place to stand in the shade. A cool breeze blew on our backs, and rustled the green leaves against the sky. The men sang of everlasting love into their microphones. Men and women clapped their hands or nodded along as children played tag, shrieking happily like children do when they are outside and no one is telling them to be quiet.
Not for the first or last time that week, I was amazed at how much joy a community can contain after enduring so much grief.
Back at work watching my patients dance in their seats, I thought it again.
* "Look!" he exclaimed when we met, "we're the same height!"