The lamplighter was making his rounds. The child at the window blew and peered expectantly through the frosty halo, rubbing it larger with a knitted glove. Curiously she gazed at the ten or so people holding books and huddled together in greatcoats, mufflers, and tufted wool caps in the drifting snow in front of the door.
The teacher made her way past rows of small beds, straightening the covers on a few. “Why can’t children be more understanding?” she wondered. “Not everyone is perfect, no one in fact”. Emily had understood enough and fled the dining room, heedless of the laughter that followed her. Nevertheless, her teacher knew where to find the little girl on any evening at this time.
Abigail stopped in the doorway and stood watching her charge. Emily, seeing her teacher, flew across the room to her, almost tripping on her long skirt. Her eyes were full of questions. The child grasped Abigail's hand and drew her back to the window, pointing at the people who were reading something out of the books. She looked up hopefully.
"Singing," tried Abigail. Emily clapped her hands impatiently. Her bright eyes begged for more. The young teacher mouthed the song’s words but her pupil was never satisfied just with words. "What do the words mean," she wanted to know.
“How can I explain,” she pondered and sent up a prayer. She thought about the first word, whose meaning Emily would understand better than most.
Maybe... She pointed at Emily, then at herself, and covered her own ears while saying the word "silent".
It took a few tries while the child wrinkled her brow, considering the gestures. Suddenly Emily smiled and pointed at herself and covered her own ears, then pointed back at Abigail. Then she surprised her teacher by laying a finger across her own lips. She had probably observed this sign being used to tell the other children to stop talking. Abigail smiled, mimicked the last sign and spread her arms inclusively. Again, the little girl thought for a long moment, then nodded in seeming understanding, spreading her arms wide.
The second word was easier. It was twilight and the snowy bridge of the Milky Way was beginning to make its appearance.
The next word, "holy", would require more time and assistance from above and Abigail sent up another prayer.
Delightedly the child mouthed the words to herself: "Silent Night". For just a moment her inner world intersected just a little with everyone else’s.
At that moment two other children who had followed their teacher appeared in the doorway. They had been watching, mesmerized.
“Please Teacher, tell Emily we’re sorry. We didn’t mean to hurt her,” pleaded the girls.
“Tell her yourself. “ Abigail stepped out of the way.
They approached Emily, and stood looking down at their shoes. After a moment, Emily reached out and hugged each of them. She drew the girls to the window and they stood together watching the carolers.
Looking up, Emily pointed at a single star winking in the northern sky, brighter than all the rest. Seeing her there, the lamplighter waved as he did every evening and Emily and her friends waved back.
“Merry Christmas, little ones,” whispered the teacher.
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