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TITLE: Not an Angel
By Martha Black

This is a melancholy Christmas about love, loss, and pain beginning to morph into hope for the future.
Martha Black

How can it be Christmas? How can there be joy to the world. All I see is a scruffy Santa Claus standing on the corner in gray mushy snow ringing a dull-sounding bell. All I hear is off-key music played over loudspeakers. What good are gaudy windows with useless gifts? What good are decorations and Christmas trees? How can it be Christmas without Timmy?

Five-year-old Timmy was my buddy, my pal, my brother. How Timmy loved Christmas. The bells and music set him dancing. He made nose smudges on lighted windows trying to decide which gifts he wanted. Santa Claus was his friend and building snowmen his delight. Christmas was the time of year we waited for and dreamed of while we counted down the days. But not this year; this year Timmy lies in the cold ground under the snow.

I slosh through the melting snow in a daze, the same daze I’ve been in since Timmy drowned under the ice in the pond behind our house. My heart is empty and my mind dull. I go through the motions of being alive, but I feel dead. I go to school, I work at the drugstore and I live with my parents, but nothing feels real.

At work people look at me with pity, but I don’t want pity! I want Timmy back again, alive, active and ready for Christmas! Tonight I purposely choose to walk home rather than take the bus. The bus is quicker, but this way I won’t see my pain mirrored in my parent’s eyes quite so soon.

The streets are filled with people, but I ignore them. How dare they be happy when Timmy is dead! Suddenly my heart freezes within me. There in front of me is the spitting image of my little brother. The same dark blond hair, slightly mussed, the same nose pressed up against the window and the same dream in dark brown eyes. I stand transfixed for a long moment and then I notice the differences between this boy and my brother.

This boy has on a lightweight windbreaker instead of a warm woolen parka like Timmy’s. His blue jeans are patched and worn at the knees rather than nicely creased. Instead of the cowboy boots that Timmy favored, this boy’s shoes are thin, raggedy and taped where holes must have gaped.

Tears sting my eyes and suddenly my paycheck feels heavy in my pocket. I know what I must do. This boy gazing in a shoe store window is dreaming of shoes that will keep his feet warm and all his nose pressing won’t get them for him. But I can buy shoes for this boy; I can do this—for Timmy.

I go to the little boy and kneel beside him. He looks at me shivering, seemingly from the cold and not from fear. “Little boy,” I ask “do you want a new pair of shoes?”

He looks at me with wonder. “I just asked God for a pair of shoes. How did you know? Are you an angel?” he asks in a hushed voice.

This was not what I expected. Me, an angel, when I’m so angry with God for taking my Timmy away from me? Hardly! “No, I’m not an angel,” I tell him, “but I will buy you a pair of shoes if you want them.”

His smile reveals which of the two of us is the angelic one. I reach out my hand, he puts his cold one into mine, and we walk into the store. It is obvious that the shoe salesman has been watching us because, without a word he pulls up a stool and puts the boy’s foot on it. “What’s your name, son,” he asks, “and what size shoes do you wear?”

“My name’s Kenny, Sir, and the last time Mom bought me shoes at Goodwill, I wore size twelve.”

“Okay, Kenny, let’s see if your feet have grown,” the salesman says as he reaches for Kenny’s foot.

“Oh! Oh no! You don’t understand!” Kenny stammers at the salesman, jerking his foot away. “I don’t want shoes for me! I want them for my brother, Johnny! He wears size ten.” Kenny looks at me with tears in his eyes. “Johnny’s shoes are really worn out and his feet get so cold. He’s been sick for several months and he needs warm shoes! Please,” Kenny’s eyes beg me, “if you want to buy me a pair of shoes, buy them for Johnny!”

My grief-distracted mind has difficulty understanding this sacrifice. Kenny’s shoes are almost in pieces, and I’m sure his feet are freezing and yet he wants shoes for his brother? “His brother”—the words pierce my heart. So, I’m not the only person in the world who cares deeply for a brother. I’ll never be able to do anything for my Timmy again, and yet maybe his life will continue if I help others in his name. The ice surrounding my heart begins to crack.

The salesman looks at me questioningly. “Please, Sir” I tell him, “bring us a pair of sturdy leather high-tops in size ten.”

When the shoebox is put into Kenny’s lap, he opens it and moves his fingers over the warm brown leather. Kenny examines the shoes carefully. “These are perfect! Are you sure you’re not an angel?”

I touch his hair that is so like Timmy’s. “No, I’m not an angel, Kenny!” I hesitate and then ask, “Kenny, you believe God loves Johnny very much, don’t you?” He nods vigorously. “Well, guess what?” I ask as I wrap my hand around my paycheck, “God loves you just as much!”

“Sir,” I say to the salesman, “please check to see what size shoes this young man wears now.”

The salesman gently pulls a terribly worn shoe off and measures Kenny’s cold, damp foot. “Looks like you’ve grown to a size thirteen, young man. Come, show me which shoes you like best.”

Gazing in awe at the display of new shoes, Kenny again looks like Timmy did when he pressed his nose against a window filled with gifts. I ache with love for them both. As Kenny chooses his shoes, I come to grips with the truth that my Timmy will never need shoes or anything—ever again. But, for the first time since Timmy died, I know that life will go on.

I also know where there’s a warm, woolen parka, aching for a young boy to fill it. And I know of an outgrown coat that’s perfect for a much loved little brother.

© Martha Black all rights reserved. Use proper credit.
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