Yesterday morning I was drafted to be chauffeur for a ten year old.
She was scheduled to attend a dress rehearsal for today’s performance of the traditional Christmas pageant at the old downtown Episcopal parish church. On this busy Saturday morning, her 12 year old brother was at a local hig h school taking a college entrance exam qualifier for the Duke University TIP Summer Program, and her sister and parents were kicking and punching their way through Tang Soo Do forms in advanced black belt pre-testing at the dojang. That’s where I picked up Julia.
“What character will you be?” I asked, hearing the safety belt in the back seat click with a definitive thunk.
“I get to be a Narrator this year,” she replied smugly.
“Great,” I said. “That’s better than a sheep.”
“Oh, yeah. A whole lot better. The little kids have to be the sheeps, but I get to wear my own clothes.” Her self-satisfaction at having risen to older kid status amused me.
We arrived at the church. Sure, enough, in the parish hall, twenty-five or thirty kids were struggling into sheep, donkey, angel and wisemen costumes. They moved over to the church sanctuary and milled around waiting for their cue to begin the procession.
The prize role goes to Mary, who gets to dress in cerulean blue and hold a baby doll. Joseph, a tangential figure at best, always looks miscellaneous and confused. “Why do I have to be here, huh?” He stands at the edge of the action, while Mary holds the microphone close and poses for the paparazzi.
Directing all of these children began to look like one of those “herding cats” events, and I was just fishing for my sunglasses and car keys to run over to Joe Patti’s Seafood to pick up our dinner ingredients, when I noticed one of the angels.
“Something about that angel looks familiar,” I thought, and took a closer look.
I observed as this tall angel watched over the younger ones. She was clearly the senior angel in the bunch, and turned the small ones to the right and left at the front of the church, counting them off, one to the left, one to the right, until, each junior angel in proper position, she assumed her own place.
Suddenly I remember. The tall angel, her younger sister and her dad attended a Reading at our local literary society in October. The occasion was the premiere of their annual publication. One of her poems was published, as was one of my stories. She read first, a poignant poem called “Moving.” It reflected the life of a military family, constantly packing and unpacking. Her dad had recently returned from Iraq.
The last line of her poem was, “Unpack. Stay.”
She finished the reading. Warm applause accompanied her as she returned to her seat. Before she had made it all the way back, her young dad leaned across a vacant metal folding chair between us, looked straight into my eyes and somberly said, “Here’s the thing, though. I’ve been re-deployed. Afghanistan. Have to leave in a month.”
And she swirls, this tall angel, this being of light, and appears to shift through time, space, corporeal to incorporeal and back again, her father gathered home in her earnest wings, his frail clay protected, mind and spirit healed, to sit once again with her at a reading of words.