By Angela Carling
I could hear them moving around, feet padding softly on the cold wood floor of the living room. Sometimes my makeshift bed moved a little, a small bump and then I’d smell my mother’s perfume drifting as she leaned over my frail Eleven year old body. Her hair tickled as it brushed across my sallow cheeks but I still kept my eyes shut. It was easier that way, the light only added to my sense of fogginess and the terrible pain that ravaged my body.
“Maybe we should pray.” My mother whispered her voice hoarse.
“No,” my father’s voice thundered in return. You know we don’t lean on fictitious Gods and superstitious nonsense.”
I couldn’t see it, but I imagined my mom shrinking back, her forehead crinkled up and her eyes tearing in the corners. A heavy silence set in and I felt myself drifting. I wondered. Was this it? Was I finally going to die? The dark around me was thick and wet like the bathroom after a long shower. Off in a distance I saw the pinpoint of light. The light grew quickly and with it a warmth like nothing I’d ever felt before. It rooted from inside me working its way out until I was cocooned in a blanket of calm and serenity. Out of the brightness stepped a man. I recognized him instantly even though he didn’t match up with the many variations I’d seen in department stores and parades.
It was Santa Claus or Old Saint Nick as I’d heard him called. I wasn’t allowed to believe in him. My parents told me he was a lie as soon as I was old enough to understand. Real is real my father always said. It you can’t see it, it doesn’t exist. Still, I’d hoped up until just last year on my eleventh birthday that he would come to my house and prove my father wrong. My father caught wind of my hopefulness and showed me photo after photo of the North Pole barren and cold, with no trace of a workshop or elves anywhere. He also promised if I let go of my silly childhood fantasies, he’d double my Christmas presents as a reward for showing my maturity.
I got sick a few months later. I grew up quickly and stopped believing in anything I couldn’t see.
He stood in front of me. His snow white hair grew wild and long and his broad shoulders filled out his thick red sweatshirt. Most amazing of was the way he smelled, like pure childhood joy. A little bit of mint and chocolate and somehow like fresh snow and sunshine on a warm spring day. His gaze settled on me piercing but kind.
He reached out and brushed his fingers across my forearm. That was when I realized I was standing on strong legs. Like a drug without side effects my pain was steadily fading away and along with it the horrible fogginess from the pain medication. Soon everything was crisp, the red of his clothes so vivid and the smell of his skin wonderfully pungent. If this was death, I could deal with it.
“Why are you here?” I asked. The awe bled through in my voice and for the first time in my life I didn’t have to hide it.
His lips curled up making his eyes brighten in response. His fingers lightly tightened on my arm again tickling my sensitive skin. “Christopher,” he began, “I’m here to give you your Christmas gift.” Before going on, he winked and chuckled as if he knew a delicious secret.
“It’s a gift that will last forever.”
For the first time in a long time my stomach flip-flopped with excitement and I allowed the feeling flow freely.
“Can we go now?” I asked feeling like a regular ten year old instead of a dying child.
Santa glanced in my direction and winked at me. “We’re already there.”
In front of us a narrow stairway took shape. Somehow, like St. Nick, I knew it was always there but never saw it before. I followed him down taking each stair with care. Unlike me, he bounded the steps with eagerness. It reminded me of the commercials I’d seen of children on Christmas morning. It was so different than our Christmases. His excitement was contagious and I began to jump from stair to stair trying to catch up. Near the bottom, I froze my mind commanding my feet to be still. Not far from the stairwell another familiar scene was laid out before me. I knew it instantly. I’d seen it many times before in pictures and on front lawns with plastic figures and lit mangers. It was birth of the man the world called Jesus Christ. Near the manger Santa rested on one knee peering down at the child in the manger. His head bowed and his eyes wide with reverence and awe.
How could this be? Santa a figure of love and kindness, that wasn’t hard to imagine as real, but a person that could save us all? I’d had friends that believed. I knew what they said and who they worshipped, but my father always said they were weak and simple. Since the day I was born, I was taught to rely on science, on what I could see and touch and now in front of me was something my father called a lie. Yet it wasn’t.
I rushed to the manger and stood next to Santa. The smell of fresh hay filled my senses and the light of a dim lantern caused me to squint in the otherwise black night. It all felt so real, so…. verifiable to use one of my father’s own scientific words.
Santa turned to me his blue eyes shining in the flickering light. “This,” he said, “is the Son of God. He is the Savior of the world and the greatest gift ever given to mankind.”
Without realizing I’d moved, I reached out and touched the baby’s small hand. His skin was smooth and soft and the rise and fall of his breath even and content. Inside me deep in my gut a desire was growing. I had to know, was my father wrong? Was there really a God and did his Son come to earth as a man to save us?
I glanced at Santa. He grinned at me. “Go ahead,” he said again seeming to know my thoughts.
“Are you real and do you love me,” I blurted out to the child even though I knew my father would think it was silly.
The child opened his eyes and looked at me. Behind his young gaze was wisdom and most of all, concern for me. Almost immediately and without a word spoken I felt his response. My belly began to swell with warmth and an indescribably bliss. That feeling grew until my entire body tingled and burned with the happiest sensation I’d ever felt. Then I heard a voice as if he were speaking directly into my heart and mind. “I am real. Come and follow me.”
I dropped to knees and bowed before the manger. Tears streamed down my face, yet I was happy. The feeling of his love was so wonderful that I didn’t ever want it to end. “Oh Jesus,” I cried “Let me be with you forever.”
I looked to my side and Santa was gone. Just like Christmas Eve, he’d given me his gift and slipped away.
I turned back to the manger. Then I heard the Savior’s words as plain and clear as he was a man speaking to me.
“Tomorrow,” he said. “Now return to your family and bring them the truth.”
The scene before me faded and I heard in the distance my mother’s tender voice.
“Please God let him live through the night.”
I traveled through the dark again only this time, my body felt light. Soon the blackness gave way and I opened my eyes to see my Mother kneeling by my bed. My father stood teetering from foot to foot as she prayed. He was the first to realize I was awake.
I sat up in bed with strength I’d hadn’t felt in months. “He’s real,” I blurted out. “I saw Jesus Christ and he is so completely real.”
My mother gasped and leapt up from her knees. She wrapped her arms around me squeezing me tight. Her love reminded me of the way it felt to be near Jesus and I held her in return. “Jesus gave me one more night, mom. He wants you to know he loves you.” Even though I couldn’t see her I knew she was crying. Soon her tears began to drip on my neck warm and salty. I didn’t even care.
When she finally pulled back, my dad came close and sat on the edge of my bed. His eyes too, were moist. “I saw and touched Jesus.” I said, “And,” I paused wondering if my dad would believe. “I felt his love and even though I can’t see him now, I know he’s real.” My father searched my face. Like always, he was searching for truth. Satisfied with what he saw, he pulled me close and held me without saying a word.
We talked and laughed about other things that Christmas night, but we were all thinking about the Savior.
Just after midnight, I heard my mother’s voice again. It seemed to be drifting away from me.
“He’s gone to be God,” she said. My father didn’t object. The darkness around me soon gave way to a growing light except this time; I knew who would greet me. Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Eagerly, I ran to him letting the light and love of my holy God take me home where I would wait for someday when my parents would join me forever.