Clouds hung low, spitting light rain mixed with sleet. The weatherman predicted a brown slushy holiday. He had promised a mom he would visit today. He had met her son that fall, but he was slipping, headed for the streets. Jesus, you are enough to save from the pull of easy money, aren’t you?
As he boarded the L train at Broadway Junction, he noticed students clumped together, as they often did, laughing and goofing off. He smiled. It was the final day of school before the Christmas break. Outside, dark blighted tenements sped by almost close enough to touch, a blur of gray and black.
A nervous knot tightened in his gut as he thought about the visit. Would her son be there or not?
He exited the train at Sutter Avenue, and walked two long blocks. The front door to the complex was ajar, so he made his way to the fourth floor. When he knocked he heard stirring and rustling inside, and then bolts turning. She welcomed him, and offered to take his jacket. On the wall he noticed a life sized drawing of a Christmas tree. Nothing else suggested Christmas just days away. The stuffy close quarters smelled of disinfectant.
He sat down at the kitchen table, as she busied herself, fetching a platter of butter cookies. No need to apologize, water is fine.
He wanted to tell her that God would protect and provide for her son, but he didn’t. The platitude seemed too shallow a cut against the cords that bound her fear, and his own. Her son wasn’t there, hadn’t come home last night.
It was small talk at first. But then turned to holidays and gifts, and she grew serious. Christmas is hard when there’s nothing to give. He nodded his head, and bent closer to her. He whispered that perhaps if they prayed, God would give the greater gift, a son rescued from the streets. Then she pulled a crumbled piece of paper from her apron, unfolded it and pushed it across the table. He noticed a brown ring on the edge.
“Here,” she said. “I want you to have this, because you understand.”
She asked him to read it, and then closed her eyes. Could he do it without the stutter that crept into these anxious moments? He began, but haltingly.
“One-lonely— night—among-the—- poor
A woman bore a — son,
Suffering under– shame and guile
She cried to angels, anyone
Whose voice would—soothe,
And hands hold her troubled soul.
But–nothing stirred, only eyes of fear;
–Nothing whispered in her strained ear,
Until the moment He was born,
And took his first human breath.
That’s when heaven sent to earth
Angels to announce the—death of fear,
That’s when she heard it,
Addressed to her like a waterfall;
A roaring long awaited epiphany:
“This one will have a father again;”
The answer to all uncertainty.
“You wrote this?”
He needed to leave, needed to breathe. He noticed tears in her eyes when he had finished the poem. She clutched his hand, the paper underneath, then bent over, as if in pain.
“He’s not a bad boy.”
“I know,” he’d managed.
“Thank you for coming,” she said. “It will all turn out.” Now it was she who taught him a new theology, one without options. He nodded, and walked toward the door.
“Tell him I’m going give it to him for standing me up.”
They laughed and hugged awkwardly in the foyer. Then he was out the door and descending the stairs. The clouds seemed closer now, and the icy air had turned to snow. A chill crept into his thin jacket as he made his way to the subway. As he passed the projects, he noticed children moving in the courtyard, behind the mesh fence and coiled barbed wire; their necks stretched up, tongues out, like baby eaglets. Large white flakes drifted down among them.
Then something caught his eye, a little girl under the eaves, holding a violin to her chin. In front of her, an old man sat on a crate. He leaned heavy on a cane. On second glance, he noticed the man was blind, his ear bent toward the sound of the child’s instrument. His face bent upward, as though gazing at angels. Snowflakes melted on this face.
The melody of Silent Night drifted among the children. It’s sound rose above the rattle of a train, the bark of a dog, and voices inside his head telling him it’s all too broken to make a difference. But now with the sound of the violin, everything stopped. He listened, and did hear the message, ‘a father again,’ even amidst desperation. It made its way into the heart of the city, past penthouses, swank dining places, and chic west side café’s. It crept into the fiber of every race, and ethos, because it left no man an orphan, no woman to sit alone at a table without a friend.
On the way home, he stood by the subway doors, watching his reflection in the foggy window. Who was this solitary figure, in whose mind swirled images? The mother’s tears, the child’s violin, the blind man’s enraptured face, and the voices inside him, ‘you will never understand.’ They were pieces to a puzzle that didn’t want to fit. He held the coffee stained parchment, as if nothing in the world mattered so much as to honor the author’s scribbled words. He read it once more. She had captured a faint whisper of hope, which the violin’s sound had accompanied, and his heart had surrendered to. She had penned promise, had squeezed it out of nothing, just as God did in creating the worlds.
Snow fell harder now, the clouds encroaching upon the tenements, a white powdery blur as he sped by. He smiled. I hope the weatherman got it wrong.
I hope the children get their white Christmas after all.