The little boy could not have been over 4, maybe 5 years old. He was wearing a sweatshirt meant for a kid around 7 and it swallowed him. He sat on the examining table playing with a straw, bending and flexing the jointed part of the straw. His mother sat in a chair, silent, sullen and withdrawn. I had already decided I was not going to become a pediatrician, but that didn’t keep me from seeing children in the Comprehensive Care Clinic. I was halfway through my senior year in medical school and proudly called myself “Student Doctor Hennigan”. As student doctors, we began to see our own patients in the CCC beginning our junior year. The care of these patients was overseen by family practice physicians with years of training. Any decision we made as students was directed by our “attending” physicians.
I had on my short white coat longing for the day I could move into the long, white coat — the “uniform” of a real doctor. On my breast pocket, I had pinned a flashing Santa Claus face that winked and blinked. I pointed to the pin. “What is Santa bringing you this year?”
My mouth fell open and I glanced at the mother. A fiery defiance filled her eyes and she raised an eyebrow. “That’s right. Santa’s dead. In fact, you pronounced him dead, didn’t you Doctor?”
I stuttered. I opened and closed my mouth and she stood up and stepped very close. Her gazed bored into mine. “Now, you listen here. You brought up Santa to my son and I done told him Santa ain’t coming. I had to tell him Santa died cause I ain’t got no money this year for Christmas. You understand? And, unless you gonna cough up some dough, I suggest you tell my son that Santa is dead as a door knob and you personally pushed his body down to the morgue.”
I turned quickly and left the room, slamming the door behind me and stood there in the hall gasping for breath. This is not what I was prepared for in medical school. Santa was dead and I had pronounced him? Tears stung my eyes and I leaned against the wall with the sudden realization that as much as I wanted to, I couldn’t help everyone anymore than I could heal everyone. I had no money myself. I lived off of borrowed student loans or I would march back in and press a wad of twenties into that mother’s hands so that kid could have Christmas that year. But, instead, I limped away to my attending and begged for direction. He just laughed and told me to go back in and take care of the child’s physical needs.
“It’s not our place to promote magical thinking.” He sneered at me. “Go back and examine that child and don’t you say another word about Santa. And, take that stupid pin off your coat.”
I avoided the mother’s gaze while I took care of the child. I never mentioned Santa or Christmas again. I gave her a prescription for antibiotics and stiffly walked out of the room. I had no prescription for her bitterness.
Two thoughts come to mind when I recall this incident.
1 — Our culture wants to kill Santa and any and all “magical” thinking. Richard Dawkins, the famous atheist, has published a book telling children they should appreciate the universe for what it is and to encourage parents to avoid discussions of God as “magical” thinking. No matter where you stand on the issue of the existence of God, such thinking robs our children of the most important tool their minds possess — imagination. It is imagination that led to the discovery of every great scientific development through the history of mankind. It is imagination that has given us music, art, the spoken word, film, the written word, and, yes, Santa Claus. If we discourage our children to think outside the box, we condemn the future of mankind to a cold, sterile death. We indeed kill Santa Claus and every positive thought; every positive development that is to come. We become automatons; biological robots slave to our DNA. This is the ultimate end results of naturalism, the philosophy based on evolution. Just take a look at the one society in the last century that perfected a culture based on naturalism — survival of the fittest — Nazi Germany. I personally don’t want to go there as a society. So, we need to endure the results of magical, imaginative thinking — in fact, encourage it. For, there is truth here. Santa Claus came from the story of a real man; a real human being who saw the suffering of children and reached out to them in secret and that man’s legacy lives on in Santa Claus. If we kill Santa Clause, we kill kindness and mercy and generosity. As a society we can ill afford that right now!
2 — This is the season of light; the season of giving; the season of sacrifice. No matter where you stand on the issue of Christ’s birth, there is no denial that Jesus was born in extreme poverty. His birth was quiet and unnoticed save for the angels’ announcement to the lowest of workers — shepherds. And yet, the proclamation of joy and hope by the angels was undeniable. And, in time, the Christ child would be visited by the highest of the high, three kings; three magi — wise men bearing gifts of great worth. This season as you travel about in the hustle and bustle of buying gifts and going to parties and cooking and enjoying the closeness of friends and family, pause to remember a tiny boy seated on a cold examining table playing with a straw under the impression that the spirit of giving has died. Reach out and give to those who do not have. Spread joy and happiness to those who are living in perpetual sadness. Be a Santa to those who are in need and you will prove that Santa is not dead and neither is the spirit of giving so fittingly exemplified by God’s Gift to mankind — His only Son.
On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Luke 10:25-29
In the coming days, I will share with you how one day, not long after the events in this story, I actually KILLED Santa Claus!
I was asked to write a monologue from Mary’s memories for Brookwood Baptist Church’s event, “Joy”. Now that it has been performed, I want to share it with you on this first day of December as we count down the days until we celebrate the birth of our Savior.
A Visit With Mary
No parent should ever have to bury their child. Ever. When you hold your newborn baby, you never imagine the end. You only think of the beginning. All is fresh and new and tomorrow is forever.
She puts the animal back on the table.
I heard about my new baby from an angel. Really! You don’t believe me, but that is just fine. An angel told me I was going to have a baby boy and even told me what to name him. I couldn’t tell just anybody. They would think I was crazy. After all, I was so young, so innocent and already engaged to be married. Yeah, engaged.
My husband was a good man. Hard working. Dedicated. Loved the Lord. He didn’t tell me about his angel until he was dying. Told me an angel visited him and told him to marry me no matter what. He listened to the angel and he listened to his heart. He loved me. And, I loved him. He was such a good father.
She picks up the animal again and paces as she talks.
There was that time we lost my son. We were traveling and you know how you always have this fear that your child will wander away and get lost. I mean he was 12! And granted a 12 year old should be responsible but for days we thought he was playing with the other guys only to discover we had left him behind in the city! I should have known he would be different. What kind of child comes with the birth announcement of an angel? He wasn’t hanging out with the other guys or hitting on the girls. He was in the church talking to the heavy thinkers; you know, the philosophers, the historians, the theologians and here I’m going to have to be a little proud and not so angry when I tell you that he was more than carrying his own weight. Some of these very intelligent men were astonished at what my son knew.
Mary goes back to the stool and sits down. She places the animal on the table and becomes very thoughtful.
Of course, his brothers and sisters never really liked him that well. They all knew he was different. That’s why that time at the feast I tried to stop them. They thought he was crazy. I tried to explain that their brother was not crazy; he was not delusional; he was special. God had His hand on my son but they insisted on going and the words they spoke about their brother! I can’t tell you how many times since then they wished they could take those words back. When you’ve said something so hurtful to someone you love and then they die . . . well, you can never find peace again.
Mary suddenly grows very proud of her son and motions to the table.
I have this table, right here, see? It is small and not exactly perfect but my son built this for me right after he turned thirteen. And, this stool I’m sitting on he made when he turned twenty. But, all of his glorious skill with working with wood ended when he turned thirty. He stopped shaping the hearts of trees and began to shape the hearts of men.
My husband once told me that a man should be happy if he has raised someone smarter than himself or more successful than himself. He never had the opportunity to here our son speak. Such words! I once watched him carving a limb — an old, gnarled piece of driftwood from the sea of Galilee.
He started out just looking at it and studying it. And then, he began to cut away the dead twigs and strip away the rotten flesh. And, then he exposed the beautiful swirling pattern of the heart of the wood. He polished it and sanded it and coated it with oil and wax until the limb became a beautiful walking stick for my father. How did he see what was inside that broken, gnarled and discarded piece of wood? Only the Lord could show him the potential of what lay inside. He is that way with words. He sees into the hearts and minds of men and women and the words that cut to the quick; that expose the hurt; that sooth the pain; that heal the wound; or that prick the recalcitrant heart and those words are sharper than a two edged sword. He is the word. Yes, the very word of God.
And, yes, it would be His words that brought about his downfall. The wrong words were spoken by his brothers and they hurt him. But, the right words were spoken by my son and they killed him.
Mary looks up as if looking at Christ on the cross and hugs herself in pain.
I was there when he hung on the tree — irony of ironies he should die on the very wood he spent his life shaping. My heart was broken and I remembered the first night I held him; cold, wet; crying and hungry as angels filled the night and shepherds bowed at our feet and the skies sang with a thousand hosannas.
She unfolds her arms and gestures to the “cross”.
But, where were they now? Where were the angels as he bled on the cross? Where were the lowly shepherds who fell at his feet? Where were the songs of praise and triumph?
They were gone. The angels, like his heavenly Father, turned their backs to him in his hour of greatest need. The shepherds did not bow at his feet but hurled insults and bitter hatred and cried “Crucify Him.” And the songs of praise were replaced with a silence so profound, so deep it covered the earth with its sorrow.
Mary stumbles back in pain and sorrow and sits roughly on the stool. She mimes the action of them placing Chris in her lap. As she talks, she touches the wounds on his head, touches the wound in his side, touches the wounds on his hands.
I held him in my lap just as I had as a baby. He was cold; wet; but he no longer cried and he no longer hungered. His lifeless body sucked the very life out of the universe; the creator born of my womb; drinking from my body now limp and helpless in my arms. God had been born. God had died. And, I had been the bookends of His life.
Mary relaxes and turns back to the table. She picks up the carved animal again.
I am waiting now. Waiting for a great and glorious reunion. I was at the empty tomb! I saw my Son reborn; in new flesh still marred with the scars of his atonement. He walked among us for days and then bid us goodbye to become one with his Father. I miss him greatly whenever I touch this table or hear this stool scrape across the stones.
She closes her eyes, holds the toy animal to her face and inhales as if remembering. She opens her eyes and begins to talk.
Every now and then, I catch a glimpse of Him out of the corner of my eye or smell his fragrance on a chance breeze for His is the breath of life; His is the everlasting water; His is the Life eternal to give to us all. I have had a good life. I have had a life no mother could ever have imagined. It all started with an angel visit and it will end with my Son coming for me. He will welcome me into His arms only I will not embrace Him.
Mary falls to her knees and kneels as if at the feet of Christ, looking up in wonder.
No, I will fall at His feet in worship and praise for my son who was born to die, died so that we might liver forever!