The following is a re-post of a story I wrote several years ago. The theme fits the upcoming Christmas season.
Glen numbly watched through the window as Delores carried her battered suitcases down the crumbling concrete stairs of the dilapidated apartment building which they called home. Well, they had called it home until just moments ago. Glen had arrived home early from work to find Delores on the phone with the cab company, her packed bags standing next to the door of the studio apartment. The sight particularly surprised Glen. He originally took half a day off from work and stopped by a florist to surprise his wife with flowers and an early dinner to celebrate the promotion he’d just received at the factory in which he worked. Instead, Delores finished her instructions to Yellow Cab… she was great at giving instructions… and calmly said; “I can’t take this anymore, Glen.” Picking up her bags, she brushed past him and in a weary monotone cast, “The rest of the story is on the table…” over her shoulder as if it were an afterthought. As she walked across the stained carpet of the hallway to the century-old elevator, Glen silently watched six years of marriage enter the elevator. After watching the doors close, he turned to the envelope on the table.
Finally, breaking through his initial shock, Glen picked up the envelope and exited the apartment. Walking to the emergency stairwell, he mindlessly stumbled down each step to watch through the kaleidoscope of cracks in the front door window as Delores descended the stairs to the waiting cab. The driver met Delores at the bottom stairs, took her bags, and placed them in the trunk as she got in the back seat without a backward glance. Glen pushed through the door and slowly felt his way down the stairs to the sidewalk. As he watched her white, cold profile through the cab’s foggy window, the forgotten bouquet of flowers fell from Glen’s limp hand; the colorful petals a sharp contrast to the grayness of the wintry mix of melting slush on the concrete at his feet.
As the cab disappeared into the mid-afternoon traffic, he turned and began to walk in the opposite direction Delores had chosen. Although symbolic of the immediate future of their marriage, Glen had no conscious reason for the decision. He just walked. He walked as if blindly trying to escape the reality of the situation.
A grieving mind, anxious to make sense of an incomprehensible loss, intermittently begins to rerun the mental tape, hoping to somehow dull the pain by gently interjecting piercing reality into a rapidly retreating consciousness. The resulting experience is an emotionally rock-hard shock that must be crushed by waves of anguish which slowly washes over the rocky surface until the retreating tide pulls away the numbness and leaves the person to either embrace and deal with the pain or run from it further.
Glen’s mind began this process as his body walked the city streets, expending physical energy to relieve the adrenal rush caused by the event. He walked aimlessly, his body’s behavior a mirror of the confusing thoughts and emotions wandering his psyche. As if to torture him further, his memory began to replay conversations and events that would have given a listening mind a sense of foreboding to the relational starvation that led to this moment. At the time of those conversations, however, Glen had been so absorbed with the immediate struggle to make ends meet and the pressure to show himself a “team player” at work that he had reassured himself of how the success of tomorrow would overshadow their current difficulties. Obviously, Delores hadn’t shared his perspective, or even known about it.
Although Glen’s mind was trapped in the emotional loop of shock, time was not. After three hours of walking, the warmth of the December sun absorbed by the concrete canyons of the city slowly ebbed into the growing darkness of night. The cold air and his cramping legs were what eventually broke through the crisis induced delirium in Glen’s heart and mind. The sight of an empty bench jerked his attention out of the fog in which it had been hiding. Gingerly sitting down on the bench, he reached to massage his aching shins only to become focused upon a forgotten item. Clutched within his left hand was the white envelope he had retrieved from the table in the apartment.
Shaking his head, Glen opened the back of the envelope which was soaked from the moisture accumulated by his three hour stroll. Closing his eyes, taking a deep breath and holding it, Glen took the letter from the envelope and unfolded it. Counting to three, he exhaled, opened his eyes and began to read.
There is no easy way to write the words I must write. Although we have been married for six years, I feel as if you and I are strangers. We shared more of life during the year we dated than at any time since. I have tried to tell you how lonely and bored I am in the dog house we call an apartment. At first, I tried to tell myself that it would get better when you were promoted and we could move into a better neighborhood. We could then have time and money to enjoy each other. But that time never came and I grew tired of waiting. I got tired of dodging the landlord and bill collectors. You were always working when they called or came by, but I was home. I am tired of the game of ‘hide-and-seek’ I have had to play with them. I am alone in dealing with them even when you are here, because you never want to talk about money when you get home. You say you are ‘tired’ and ‘don’t want to be bothered with it…’ Well, I don’t either!
You are also always tired. I used to want to go out together and do something. But always… you were too tired. Finally, I started to go out during the day while you were at work. I looked for and found a job. I kept the money to do what I wanted. And then, I met someone at work… We worked together. One thing led to another… isn’t that what they say? We began sleeping together on our days off. Eventually, his boss found out about it and threatened to tell his wife if he didn’t put an end to it. His boss then fired me.
That was six weeks ago. Yesterday, I found out that I am pregnant. I will not put you or a child through living in this dump with three persons, related only by marriage and mistakes. I’m not sure what I’ll do, but I do know that I am going home. Mom and Dad will know what to do…
Glen found himself mentally arguing each point in the letter until he read about the secret job. The shocked numbness then began to creep back over his consciousness. This time, however, anger stopped its spread. He closed his hand into a fist, crumpling the corner of the letter and envelope. He then began an audible and angry defense of himself to the woman who had betrayed his hard work and sacrifice.
“How dare she complain about our life? She was the one that wanted to get married so soon. I wanted to wait until I could get a little money set aside. Besides, I work like a dog! Does she think I like working double shifts? Especially at this job! I hate it! But, I can’t find anything else that pays more. She has always wanted more, more, more…
Well… now she’s done it. She got knocked-up by some management jerk looking for a skirt on the side. My boss is just like him! Serves her right! Just let ‘Daddy’ pay her medical bills. She always said I didn’t do things like ‘Daddy’ did anyway. Go live with ‘Daddy,’ Delores!”
Just then, a sound stopped his bitter tirade. At first, he thought it was a passing stranger. Looking around, he instead noticed that the bench upon which he’d been sitting was resting beside the front lawn of an old cathedral. Set up in the middle of the snow-covered lawn was a life sized, well lit nativity scene. The characters of the scene were cut from plywood and elaborately painted in appropriate adornment. A rustic stable had been painstakingly nailed together, stuffed with hay, and lit by a fluorescent light wedged in the ceiling. The entire scene was lit by large floodlights set at angles on either side of the crèche. On the top of the massive bell tower, a brilliantly lit star cast a striking pose against the cityscape. As Glen took in the picture in front of him, he once again heard the sound which originally had distracted his angry tirade. Listening intently, he sorted through the common sounds of the early evening metropolis surrounding the church grounds.
“Was it… no, that’s a cab.”
“How about… nah, two guys arguing over a parking space.”
“Well… what about… Yeah, that’s it… but, it can’t be! Is that… a baby?”
Suddenly, Glen noticed a movement out of the corner of his eye. Shifting his gaze towards the movement, he noticed that both the movement and the noise seemed to be coming from the stone manger, overflowing with hay, in the center of the nativity stable.
“Could that be…? NO! That’s impossible. No one would put a live baby in a nativity scene in twenty degree weather!”
Standing up, Glen began to venture into the snow in order to get a better view of the child in the manger. As he closed in on the scene, his progress slowed to a hesitant, step by step, investigation.
“He doesn’t seem to be crying… In fact… Yes, yes… He’s cooing and laughing and seems to be playing with his feet. Where IS his mother? The night is so cold and he seems to be dressed only in some… dirty cloths.”
As Glen’s mind began to wind through the numerous possibilities of the child’s origin, his anger began to rise.
“What kind of a person leaves a baby out in this weather to freeze and die?”
The closer Glen came to the makeshift cradle, the more intent his focus was on the child. As he got close enough to touch the child, a rational, compassionate thought crossed his mind. Kneeling in the snow, Glen removed his light jacket and covered the baby with it, tucking the sides into the hay of the manger.
“It’s not much, little fella’. But it’s the best I can do right now.”
To his amazement, as he removed his hands from the manger, he noticed that the child and even the surrounding stable were unusually warm. But before he could investigate the source of this unnatural warmth, a strong male voice broke through Glen’s focus on the child.
“Isn’t he a beautiful child?”
Due to the close proximity and strength of the voice, Glen unconsciously flinched to the right, raising his left arm as a defense against an imagined blow and then leaning on the right hand which he plunged into the snow for balance. Instead of an attack, Glen turned to see a kind, bearded face leaning down to see the baby and speak to him as well. The man’s eyes were kind and noticing Glen’s reaction bore a humorous twinkle. The face was amazingly young. Before Glen could respond or even fully react, the man spoke again.
“I’m always surprised at the warmth and joy in his tiny laugh.”
As Glen’s perplexed gaze rested on the man, he noticed how the man was looking adoringly into the laughing face of the child. Unable to resist, Glen turned to see the child’s bright eyes and toothless smile searching the faces of both men staring down into the manger. In spite of himself, Glen began to chuckle.
“Yes sir, he certainly is one-of-a-kind.” The stranger continued.
As Glen once again looked at the man, to his astonishment, he realized that the kind man was dressed in some sort of long, flowing garment. The type and style of garment was what got Glen’s attention, for it seemed old and possibly mad by hand. The man wore an outer robe which may have been made of wool, at least the color and texture looked like it. As the man leaned down to speak to Glen, he could see that the man wore a thinner garment underneath, possibly made of cotton. The outer robe also had a hood which was presently lying back on his shoulders. As Glen knelt in the snow and before he could bring himself to question the bearded young man about himself or the child, the man kindly asked:
“What brings you to the manger, friend?”
Glen was fully prepared to answer the man’s question with a question of his own about where the mother of the baby was and why the man and child were in the freezing cold when there was shelter and warmth all around them. Instead, as he withdrew his now frozen hand from the snow and unsteadily stood to his feet, Glen felt the letter Delores had written him fluttering in his hand. Looking down at the smeared ink, reminded him again of the anguish of his disintegrating life once again. The pain fell over his heart, mind, and countenance. Rather than question the kind stranger, Glen began to pour out his own desperate tale, once again feeling an inner hollowness now filling with bitterness and grief from unfulfilled expectations. The deeper he got into his story, however, he felt a growing reassurance that he couldn’t explain. After the final details of his story had spilled from his lips into the unblemished show, Glen felt the hand of the young man upon his shoulder, guiding him to a hay bale near the baby in the manger. After retrieving another bale for himself from deep inside the stable, the fellow sat at the opposite end of the manger from Glen, near the baby’s head. Looking lovingly at the innocent child and stroking his dark curly hair, the man began to speak in tones so low that Glen had to lean forward to catch each word.
“Before this child came into my life, I was a young man in love in much the same way you must have been at one time. A woman slipped into my dreams nightly and stole my heart one piece at a time. It may sound strange to you but she was a woman of great nobility. A woman described by Solomon at the end of his Proverbs. While I was not a man of great means, I was a talented and ambitious carpenter. Every project I took on was built with a commitment to excellence. I labored so the work of my hands, carved with my name, would last long after I had died and even after my children had died. I worked so generations would know my name and my work. I was proud! And yet I was alone, until this wonderful, beautiful woman walked shyly by my shop.
Her dark eyes flashed above the veil which hid the curve of her mouth, the rise of her cheeks, and the softness of her neck. One look at her and the next blow of my hammer took a course of its own. As I jerked the smitten finger into my mouth with a piercing yell, I am sure I saw the veil about her face tremble, concealing the smile and laughter behind it. When I was finally able to stop my apprentice from his own laughter at my expense, I sent him to follow her and find who her father was.
As with, I am sure, your own courtship, a simple interest led to further meetings until we were pledged to marry. In my land, to be pledged to another was a very serious event. It meant that you held yourself from all other romantic associations with any other except the one to which you were betrothed. I had no trouble obeying this tradition for not only was my Beloved beautiful, she was everything I had ever wanted in a wife and mother for our children. Her character was strong due to her deep faith in Jehovah and His provision for His people. Looking toward the future gave me confidence and hope for our lives together. I began to dream of the sons I would have to work in the shop with me, making yolks for farmers throughout the land that would be used by generations of oxen and planters.
Suddenly, these plans and dreams came crashing down. I remember it vividly. Mary came to me one morning as I worked in the shop. Calmly and confidently, she told me that an angel had visited her in the night to say that she was going to have a baby. She said that she’d asked the very question that first burst into my mind, ‘How can she have a baby when she is still a virgin?’
Actually, if I were honest, my first thoughts were not to be directed to an angel. In fact, my questions had nothing to do with whether she was a virgin or not. I had already jumped to, ‘How could you do this?’ and ‘Who is the father?’ My feelings were a self-righteous uprising against her unquestionable guilt and my unquestioned innocence. The noise of my rage drowned out her telling of the angel’s final prophecy that the child would ‘save His people from their sins.’ How ironic that I, the man that would be called the child’s father by generations of doubters, would be the first to doubt.
Looking back, I must say that the second miracle Jehovah ordained was to stop my anger from becoming action. Our law would have justified my harsh response towards Mary, but Jehovah cushioned me as I fell from the height of the pedestal upon which my dreams had placed me. For some reason, my feelings of the need for self-vindication were increasingly mixed with feelings of love for Mary. I began to think of how people would treat her in our town. I understood how she would be shunned by the other women of our village when she approached the well for water. I also imagined some of the vicious women would physically harm her if I looked the other way. And the men… the men would think that if she were pregnant without a husband, then she could be any man’s passing pleasure.
Because of these thoughts, I at first decided that she would be treated better if she were to go out of our region. She had some family living in Jerusalem, some distance south of our home town. It was a large town and Mary could blend in with the many women there. ‘There were probably other women in just the same condition she was in,’ I reasoned. Besides, one of her relatives was a priest, and she was in dire need of the help only Jehovah could give. So, we send Mary, pregnant with this child, to Jerusalem to stay with Elisabeth and Zechariah, the priest.
While she was there, Jehovah not only reaffirmed His word to her, He also spoke further to me. During the day, I could kind of block out the thoughts of Mary and the child by working in my shop. At night, however, my sleep was consistently disrupted by dreams which shook me to my core. My work and appetite dropped off as I could think of nothing else except how this innocent baby would make it in the world without a father. If adulterous women were treated badly by people in our town, bastards were not treated much better.
I started to ask myself what kind of a future this child would have without a heritage to give his some standing in the village. How would Mary and he make a living? How fair was it to this little child that the sins of others should be taken out upon him?
Somewhere within these questions, a spark of love started to smolder within the lonely tender of my heart. At first my love for Mary began to turn my mind’s direction, and then my love for the child began to turn it further until…
One night, I fell into a particularly deep sleep. As my mind drifted into an unconscious abyss, it was savagely jerked into bright focus by an angel. Amazingly, the angel called my by name and family line, and then said something even more surprising. He said, ‘do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.’ With this phrase still echoing in my head, I awakened and began to make plans to bring Mary home. I believed her story, but most importantly, I believed in the child. You see, this child changed my life. He completely rearranged my plans for the future. But, thankfully, as he grew, he traveled alongside me in my life. We built things together when he was old enough. It’s funny, those days seem to be forgotten by everyone, except me… and, of course, him. He is a wonderful carpenter. What he builds lasts forever.
So, Glen, maybe you have come to the manger to find that the love of this child can change the way you see your circumstances. I understand how you feel, friend.
Here… why don’t you come closer to the child? Pick him up! There, doesn’t his warmth go to your very depths?”
As Glen gathered the baby into his arms, a sense of peace began to settle over his wounded soul as he looked deep into the smiling, innocent eyes.
A sharp voice brought Glen’s attention to a man dressed in overalls, standing a few yards away.
“Hey mister, I said… are you ok? Ya don’t need a truck with rubber walls do ya?”
Glen responded, “Uh, no. I was just talking to…”
As Glen looked down into the smiling eyes of the child, he found, instead the unseeing, glass eyes of a plastic doll wrapped in his light jacket. Glancing sharply towards his new friend, he instead found the elaborately painted plywood cutout of a forgotten man. Glen gently placed the doll in the manger and once again turned his attention to the bystander who had taken a few strides through the snow towards the crèche and Glen. As Glen approached, the man stuck out his hand in greeting. Glen instinctively reached his own hand towards the man’s, clasped it, and looked into his smiling face.
“Isn’t he a beautiful child?” The overall clad man asked.
After stepping away from the manger, Glen noticed how icy the wind felt. As he put the light jacket back on, Glen began to mumble a reply, but the man’s next question stopped him as cold as the December wind.
“What brings you to the manger, friend?”
“I’m nnnnot sssure, bbbut I think I’m about to fffind out…”
The words were punctuated by the chattering of Glen’s teeth. As he stood shivering in the snow, the man in the overalls placed an arm around his shoulders and began to gently guide him towards a side door of the cathedral.
“Well son, why don’t we talk about the child and why you’re here, over a cup of coffee, OK? By the way, I’m Joe and I work on the custodial crew here…”
As Glen and Joe, the custodian, entered the door of the church; a very observant onlooker might have seen a slight, but very distinct smile part the painted beard of the plywood cutout of the forgotten man beside the manger… and a twinkle in the eyes of the child.