The End of the Beginning
First, he saw a young man telling stories to several small children outside the hotel. Many of these children were what we would call “street kids.” Children who had a deep sense of cynicism about everything, even this holiday, but within minutes of listening, every child found all their doubts and disbeliefs disappearing, vanquished by the simple words this young man was weaving into enchanted stories about where Christmas came from, where it went and what it did during the rest of the year. As he finished each story the children would demand another. When he related a tale of how the Wizards of Winter created snow, icicles and frost as nature’s decoration for this most special of days, the still falling snow whirled around him following his every gesture as if to confirm the truth of his words.
Through the alchemy of Christmas Eve his voice not only turned children who doubted its magic once again into believers, but the angel witnessed something even far more impressive. He saw adults who were passing by, stop to listen. In their eyes the angel could see them returning to their own childhood, to a time when faith was real and not pretend, and more importantly when they left, a little of that faith was still there.
The angel thought to himself that his Lord’s Son had often told stories and was also always very kind to children, but he decided that since he still had time he would continue to look further. He then visited the church where he found numerous men and women of goodwill serving Christmas Eve dinner to the less fortunate. Surely, one of them might be the one he was looking for, but something told him to continue his search. Next he entered the Grand Hotel across the street from the cathedral, marveling at its beautiful architecture. The hotel had an aura of gentle goodness about it. He could feel the shadows of all the lives that passed through these halls as well as souls of the people currently staying there. Behind the doors of the grand ballroom he could hear a symphony still rehearsing for its Christmas concert the next day and of course he went inside to listen. Music always reminded him of the voice of God, for it needed no translation and could reach and renew the soul like very few other things could. But still he was not sure, so venturing once more outside, he noticed several lonely individuals entering the blues bar next door. Following them inside he discovered a slightly overweight, elderly honky-tonk piano player who was brightening the life of everyone who heard him. People who thought their problems too heavy to carry, felt them lighten and then disappear as he combined music and stories in an intoxicating blend served in equal measure to all. The singer’s words of hope and happiness slipped into the listeners’ minds, carried by melodies that slipped them into their souls as well. The spells he cast seemed to benefit everyone. Well, once again nearly everyone, for sitting at the corner table was the businessman from Wall Street. The happier everyone else became as they listened to the piano player and his band, the more unhappy the businessman looked, as he cast out disparaging remarks with every sip of his drink. Eventually he left, muttering vague expletives regarding his personal misanthropic view of this holiday.
Now the angel had not noticed the businessman in the bar, or even when he had left, but as the angel was leaving to once more return to the church across the street, he noticed a trail from drops of blood in the freshly fallen snow. No one else could see this trail of blood flowing from this wound, for this was a wound of the soul, but fortunately angels’ eyes can see what humans cannot. So, though the time for his mission was rapidly running out, the angel decided that he could not abandon this soul in pain and he followed the trail of blood until he reached its source. It was the businessman who had just left the bar. He was cursing the holiday and was now walking through the snow directly in front of the Grand Hotel. Gently touching the man’s hand the angel caused him to pause for a moment as he read the man’s heart.
It seemed that he had once been a very different individual. Born in the Midwest to a very kind and religious family, he had gone to church everyday of his youth and was brought up strongly believing that man was made in God’s image. He had an extremely happy childhood and was the pride of his town, being the star pitcher on their baseball team and graduated first in his class from the local high school. Receiving several scholarship offers, he went to an Ivy League college where he met a beautiful fellow student who had come from a similar small town background. They fell in love and shortly after graduating, got married and moved to New York, where he had received a lucrative job offer from a major investment house.
Shortly after they had settled in, she told him the happy news that she was with child, and it was with the greatest of expectations that they arrived at the hospital on the delivery date. Life seemed as perfect as life could be. But then everything changed during the delivery, his wife had started to hemorrhage. From the rush of doctors in and out of the room the father could tell that something was dreadfully wrong. The expression of grief on the doctor’s face foretold his words on how the man’s wife had passed away from loss of blood. The child however, a boy, had survived. When the nurse placed his newborn son in his arms, the child laid there unusually lifeless and the father could tell that there was still more bad news to come. Demanding to immediately be told all, he was informed that during the delivery the child had been cut off from oxygen for so long that he had sustained severe brain damage. The child would never have a job, never learn to talk and at best, if they were very lucky, he might one day learn to walk. At this point the father broke as he saw the foundations of his entire life collapsing. Looking towards heaven he screamed, “This is Your image? This! I see nothing of God in this!”and with that he handed his son back to the nurse asking if the child could be institutionalized. The nurse, not knowing what else to do said they would see that the infant was taken to a nearby home for the severely mentally disabled where he would receive around the clock care. The businessman then turned and left without even a backwards glance at what would be his one and only child. For the next forty years he worked, paid his bills and returned each night to his empty home. He kept no close friends and even distanced himself from his remaining family preferring to live alone within his wound.
After the angel had taken in the man’s story, he stepped back staggered by the depth of the wound to this man’s soul. As his hand pulled away from the man, the man’s head seemed to clear and he started once more walking home. The angel not knowing what else to do, said a prayer for the man and then followed him keeping as close as he could. As they were passing the toy store to the left of the hotel, a small girl of about five years old, well-dressed in an Imperial Russian styled winter coat, was backing away from the store’s window. She was laughing in delight at a rotating toy carousel lit with hundreds of miniature lights whose horses were going up and down just like the real ones at the amusement parks. Not seeing the man, she bumped into him nearly causing him to fall on the slippery snow. To the child’s instant apology he replied with a few inaudible words. Sensing that the man was upset, and believing that she was the reason for his anger, she tried to explain that she had been looking in the store window and had not seen him. When this did not seem to change his hardened demeanor, she reminded him that tomorrow was Christmas and when that did not seem to work; she asked him if he had any children. The man glared down at the child and replied with the first word she could understand, a clear and emphatic, “No!” But for the first time in years his mind thought of the son that he had abandoned all those decades before. The man looked carefully at the little girl, something about her bothered him but he could not articulate what. Was it the fact that she had awakened memories that were better forgotten? But then he heard a clock’s bells beginning to chime midnight. Forcing himself back to the moment, he asked the girl in a stern voice what she was doing alone on the street in the middle of the night. She replied that she was staying at the hotel next door with her parents, on the twelfth floor in room twenty-four. The man then told her that she should best get her little self immediately back to that room and without another word, she turned and ran up the steps and back inside.
To be continued......