Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Christmas Cards (11/06/08)
TITLE: Not the Oddest Card, but Not the Most Normal
By Leigh MacKelvey
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Your name is Jed Pruitt and you never meant to be a bum.
You start out normal. You live in a house on the good side of town, although not the rich side. You have a mom, dad, and a parakeet. You arenít the smartest kid at school, but not the dumbest. You have friends to hang out with. You expect to have a decent life.
You major in business at college, not Harvard, but the County College. You and your buddy, John, plan to open a hardware store on the corner of Broadway and 5th. You even have a catchy name for the store,ĒJ & Jís.Ē
Then you take an unexpected trip to Atlantic City. Youíre in the car on the way to the bank with the other ďJĒ when he gets the brilliant notion of taking a drive to the casino instead of depositing the savings you built up into your new business account. He says you can double your money playing Blackjacks. Youíd both be fools not to double your money, given the opportunity. Opportunity being that Atlantic City is nearby.
So you drive.
So you shoot the wad.
No hardware store. No lighted J & Jís sign. Ever.
Youíre ashamed. Your parents are disappointed.
Three months later, your dad dies of a weak heart and your mother tells you he left you nothing. He doubted your judgment, she says. She plans to go to Oklahoma to live with her sister. She leaves just before Christmas. You never get a Christmas card from her. Thatís because your aunt calls to tell you that on the way, your momís car broke down and she was robbed waiting on the side of the road for help.
ďWhat with the shock of your foolish waste of money, your dadís passing and the robbery, your momís immune system suffered,Ē she tells you. ďShe caught pneumonia and died soon after she arrived. What a shame you were such a disappointment to your parents. They looked forward to having raised a business owner.Ē
Guilt overcomes you.
Two years pass.
You find yourself on a bench in LOVE Park, the Philadelphia homeless quarters. Youíve lived here and in shelters for the past two years, steeped in guilt and regret. You donít believe in LOVE, you just live here. You donít believe in God, just the memory of a live Nativity scene in the church parking lot when you were a boy. Baby Jesus was cold and yelled the whole time. You remember that. If Jesus canít make himself warm, he canít help you. Itís Christmas Eve and last year, a man came around with a bag of sandwiches and cookies, a hot thermos of coffee and Styrofoam cups. You hope he comes again this year. The thing is, along with the goodies, the man has a huge sack of Christmas cards. He hands them out to everyone in the Park and then he makes his way to the shelter. You never opened your card last year. You donít believe in Christmas.
The man comes. You gulp down the hot coffee. You wait until he goes before you throw your card away. Something deep inside tells you to open it.
So you open it.
Jesus is nailed to a cross. Sprawled in clumsy handwriting is Jesus died for your sins. God forgives you. Accept His gift.
Tears well up. You donít know why. You cry. Loud. The man comes back and puts his hand on your shoulder.
ďSon,Ē he says, ďTell me all about it.
So you do.
Another year passes.
You belong to a church family. You even found a job, not a great one, but a good one. You have a room with a family from your church. All year youíve been waiting for Christmas Eve. Youíll take sandwiches, cookies and coffee to LOVE Park . When you feed the homeless, youíll pass out the Christmas cards youíve handwritten throughout the year. Most of them will be thrown away. But youíre praying for that one person who will hear from deep inside.
Just Like you did.
So, everyday, you wake up just like the day before. You brush your teeth, put on your shirt, then your pants, one leg at a time. You write out a Christmas card Ö
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