This story is about ask angels yes or no and receiving and answer. you can also ask angels about numbers, but it is not the topic of this story.
“Look, Sarah,” I said, gesturing. “There’s Santa Claus.”
We had come outside to walk the two dogs, and as we encouraged them to hurry up with their business, an elderly man in a gray overcoat approached the bus stop across the street from us. My daughter looked, saw the man, and then smiled at me.
“He must have some last-minute shopping to do,” I quipped.
Who knows what goes on inside a seven-year-old’s head, I wondered. Does she still believe in Santa Claus? Does she simply appreciate the novelty of such a moment?–Santa standing at a bus stop, incognito? I wasn’t able to pinpoint in my mind exactly when, as a child, I stopped believing in the legend, so I had no idea just where this quaint little scene would take her mind.
I though to myself, she keeps mentioning angels as if she discusses with them and ask angels for advice, isn’t a bit curious?
Across the street, the old man adjusted the wool hat he wore, and reviewed the headlines inside the newspaper box nearby. Secretly I hoped that she still believed; that she hadn’t yet “graduated” to that frame of mind which leaves such “silliness” behind, to be bound up in the first few innocent chapters of our lives and forgotten for a while, forgotten forever in some cases. I hoped that she still believed because I personally had no doubt that the man across the street was Santa Claus. Still the great giver-of-gifts, he had simply changed his method of open-handedness. This man–or his spirit, in any event–had closed my window of rationality and disbelief several years before, when Sarah was just a toddler.
We were waiting in line at my bank’s drive-through window during that Christmas season of 1991. Sarah was in the back seat, strapped into her child carrier, and Michael, her eight-year-old brother, was sitting up front with me. (A couple years earlier, their mother and I had separated, and the kids happened to be spending the weekend with me. What a dark period that was in my life. Loneliness and insecurity seemed great burdens for me at that time. In retrospect, I suppose the kids rarely then saw sincerity in my smile.)
“Look,” Michael exclaimed, clearly for the benefit of his little sister. “There’s Santa Claus!” The bank’s Santa Claus–likely one of the security staff pulling holiday duty–was making his way from car to car greeting all of the children he could spot. At the moment he was a couple cars ahead of us, and would no doubt shortly be upon us.
Michael continued his efforts to draw Sarah’s attention to the actor, and before long she was watching the old man in anticipation. “Get ready, Sarah,” he told her, and as Santa slowly finished entertaining those ahead of us, he glanced in our direction. “Here he comes!” Michael bellowed, and Sarah stirred in her seat, thrilled. What a good brother he is, I thought. In that same moment I also thought that the bank guard could have spent some more time in makeup. The stage beard clearly wasn’t attached to his face in places, and the pair of glasses he wore–modern wire-rims–looked like a 1990 model to me … nothing that might have magically materialized at the North Pole in a flash of white light and stardust. The genuine-sounding belly laugh that he was able to muster, though, as he approached the passenger-side window, was fairly convincing. This was no ho-ho-ho-Santa.
He seemed clearly to be enjoying his visit with the kids. “I know you,” he laughed, as he handed Michael a small bag of candy. “You’re my friend Michael!”
Good guess, I thought. I wondered what his batting average was, so far.
“How’d you know that?” Michael asked, astonished.
Sarah wriggled in her car seat, quite impressed with the way of the world.
As the actor played his part with Michael; as he asked him about the things he was hoping to get on Christmas morning, and as Michael (a soon-to-be “enlightened” non-believer) was craftily drawn into the moment, I hoped that Santa would take care to not blow the illusion now. His performance was going a long way toward betraying the shoddy makeup job he wore.
And his eyes were the eyes of Santa Claus, behind those prescription lenses.
“And this must be your little sister,” he chuckled, delicately shifting his attention from Michael to the back seat of the car.
Careful, now, I thought.
“Sure,” he said. “I know you. You’re Michael’s little sister …”
I expected Michael to provide the name during Santa’s strategic pause but, for whatever reason, he withheld the “assist.”
“… Michael’s little sister Sarah, aren’t you,” Santa affirmed gently, as he handed a bag of candy to her. “Oh, yes,” he whispered. “And you know, Sarah, your brother loves you very much!”
“That’s right!” Michael exclaimed. “How’d you know that?”
I was touched. At the same time I was still a grown-up skeptic, attempting to explain for myself how this red-clad bank dick had pulled it off. Michael and Sarah, I thought. The top two names for boys and girls in this child-naming era. It was true: they were the most popular names, according to some survey I had read recently. That was it: Santa had happily been lucky with his odds-on guess. With this particular carload, anyway, he had pulled off his act.
As Santa chuckled from the belly, clearly pleased with himself, he paid me a glance in preparation of moving on. They could easily have been the eyes of Santa Claus. They were alive in a very special way.
“I’m very happy to see you today,” he said, returning his attention to the kids. “And now I have to move on. Merry Christmas to you, kids,” he said softly. “So many people to see!”
Oh, that was perfect, I thought.
Michael reached for the window crank.
But Santa paused now, clamped his gloved hand on the top of the door, and leaned into the car. In a sincere and confidential tone, he said to me (And the kids were gone now–this moment contained within itself only me and this minimum-wage-bank-guard-Santa-Claus.), “You have a happy Christmas, too, Scott. It all gets better, you know.”
More than with his voice, Santa had conveyed the message with his eyes, and in that moment a period in my life within which I only viewed things rationally–a period lasting approximately thirty years–came to an end. I was free once again to believe in Santa Claus and Christmas gifts and the Universe speaking in many and sundry languages.
I was free to invest myself in the song that was playing on the radio: Pete Townshend’s “All Shall be Well.”
And I was at liberty to close the door on a past which had been gloomily invading my Christmas “present.” Santa Claus had given me the gift of innocence–a form of openness that supersedes our arrogant assuredness in “certified” hard fact, if we’re fortunate.
if you mean to speak to me in color, as the angel Santa Claus did, that day.
My real name, of course, is Michael Shepard. It’s that name that was chosen for me by my parents as a form of homage to my Uncle Mike, and it’s the name with which I was baptized in the Catholic Church. It’s the name by which I’m known by the IRS and by my bank, because it’s the black and white name on my birth certificate. It’s the name that goes on forms. The name by which I’ve been known to family and friends since childhood, however, is the one that the bank guard used in his reassurance to me.
Ever since I first learned to believe in Santa Claus as a child, and while I quit doing so for a matter of thirty years or so, my name has been Scott: Michael Scott Shepard, in case you’re considering giving me a loan or a subpoena; just Scott, though, if you mean to speak to me in color, as the angel Santa Claus did, that day.
So; now, some five years later, as Sarah and I walked the dogs just a few days before Christmas, I hoped that the magic of the Saint Nicholas myth that she has enjoyed so far hadn’t yet been invaded by “reality.” I hoped that she still believed, so that, at least for a while longer she could enjoy that spirit of openness and lack of rigidity that I had fairly recently found again in myself. I looked at the bearded man across the street, and hoped that Sarah saw the same person I saw.
Once back inside, my hopes were rewarded when I noticed Sarah peeking out the window to have another look at the man at the bus stop. I’d like to think that her curiosity was met with a wave of the hand or a wink of the old man’s eye. But even if it wasn’t, at least I can be assured that she hasn’t yet fallen into that sleep of worldly self-dependence which causes us to close our eyes to the realities which lie just beyond the veil of our sense of mystery and wonder.