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Divine Intervention

By Dan Baumgartner on
Dan Baumgartner
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Dec 21 in Musings
          Most Decembers for the last 15 years or so, I write a short Christmas story. Sometimes I read them at the Children and Families Christmas Eve service, but not always.  Below is the 2015 story, just for fun. I hope it helps you prepare for the celebration of God’s miracle at Christmas.
 
                                             Divine Intervention     
           
Enrique was pedaling furiously.  It was probably a good thing the streets were relatively empty, because he was doing a lot of pedaling and remarkably little looking.  That was mainly because his eyes were full of tears.
Enrique stormed down Glendale Boulevard, then eased his bike through the gap in the chain link fence and onto the LA River Bike Trail. He hesitated for just a moment, because his mom’s rules about where he could bike were quite clear:  NOT by himself on the bike trail. EVER.  Not until he turned fourteen, which was almost a year away.

But at this exact moment, Enrique didn’t care.  He was mad, just mad. Mad at his mom’s rules, mad at his friends, mad that it was Christmas Eve, mad that his dad had died in March and wouldn’t be with them at Christmas time, mad that his 20-year old big brother Miguel didn’t seem to care enough to even come home very often. 

Enrique replayed the last hour in his mind while he rode.  His mom, Gloria, had come home from work early for the holiday, and found him playing video games on his bed again. She had left him a whole list of jobs to do, and he’d blown them all off.  What was her problem, anyway?!  In a calmer moment, he might have seen that his mom was working a ton, and still sad, and trying very hard to be both dad and mom to Enrique.  But Enrique wasn’t calm.  And he hadn’t meant to get in yet another big argument with his mom, but he did. He hadn’t really meant to yell those words- “I hate you” at the person he loved most in the whole world, but...he was so mad.  Red-faced, he had grabbed his bike helmet and the $5 bill off his dresser and stormed out the door.  He remembered his mom’s answer when he shouted “I hate you.”  She just said quietly, “I love you.”  He had kept going, grabbed his bike from next to the garage and took off...and now here he was on the bike trail.  The December air was cool enough that he wished he had grabbed a jacket. He glanced over at Griffith Park. The sun was already down, and the hills were mostly dark shadows.  He figured that in another 10 minutes it would be totally dark. Maybe he wasn’t supposed to be here, but it felt good.  Besides, he knew where he was.

He had only been on the bike trail a couple times, with his dad and Miguel.  Before everything changed.  Before he had started fibbing to his mom so much that her common response was: “I don’t believe you.”  That made him mad every time, even if she was right.

 By the time Enrique came to the end of the bike trail, it was pitch black.  He was miles upriver, and totally lost in thought.  Maybe that explains why he zigged when he should have zagged, turned right when he should have turned left, and gone straight when he should have swerved right.  By the time he finally looked around...he had no idea where he was, or how he had arrived there.  It wasn’t a great neighborhood, and nobody was around to ask directions. He pedaled aimlessly, trying to think what to do...when he thought he spotted a person, a large person, down at the end of the block with the brightest flashlight he’d ever seen. There was almost a glow, that lit up part of the street.  He headed that direction.  After he had gone a block or so...it seemed he was just as far away from the bright light as when he started.  He pedaled faster...was the person running?  The light paused at a corner, and he had the strangest feeling that whoever it was had waved at him and pointed.  He took the corner at full speed.  That’s when it got weird.  There was no large person there.   No person at all.  And no flashlight. In fact, he was riding down a dimly light street that went under a freeway. It was an industrial area, with a few odd houses here and there, and lots of barbed wire fences and old cars parked on the street. Enrique felt a little knot of fear in his stomach.  He really shouldn’t be here.

He rode hard for six or eight more blocks, and was relieved to see something that looked like a bigger intersection. There was a dingy 7-11 on the corner, and he headed toward it to ask directions.  Or maybe to use his $5 bill to get something to eat- it suddenly dawned on him he hadn’t eaten anything since morning.  In the end, he decided to hang onto his money in case he had to call home and ask his mom to come get him, even though he was already likely grounded for the next 42 years. He rolled up to the store, but before he could get off his bike, he spotted a tall, skinny kid about his own age sitting on the curb with a beat-up skateboard and dirty clothes.  The kid glared at him.

          ‘What’s up?” Enrique said, not wanting to appear afraid.

          “Not much,” the kid said without the slightest hint of friendliness.

From inside the 7-11, a man’s voice shouted “Hey, Eric, I told you not to hang out here anymore.  Now beat it!”

Eric’s eyes flicked toward Enrique’s.  He jumped on his skateboard, and slowly headed for the street.  Enrique had no idea why, but he followed him.  He tried using his name- “Hey, Eric.  My name’s Enrique.  You live around here?”  

          “Sort of,” Eric mumbled.                                                                                                     
          “What do you mean, sort of ?”

 Eric’s eyes flashed and his voice hardened- “You really wanna know, Mr. Enrique-cool-bike-guy? I do live around here.  At least, if that’s where my mom parks the car for the night. We live in a car.”

          “Oh, man...i didn’t mean...i mean...that’s pretty tough.”

          “Yeah.” Eric’s hard edge dropped and he said despondently.  “The hardest part is               the food. I’m always hungry, and we just can’t make enough money.”
         
Enrique noticed that his pants hung on him like a scarecrow.  He remembered the $5 bill in his pocket.  He was half afraid Eric would snatch it if he knew he had it.  But the other half of him opened his mouth to talk.  “Here...go get a burger somewhere,” he said, handing Eric the five.

          Eric looked suspicious- “What’s the deal?  You looking for dope or something?  I              ain’t got none. Ain’t got anything.” 

          Enrique shook his head.  “No deal.  Just want you to have something to eat.”

Eric shook his head.  “I don’t believe you.”  But after hesitating a moment, he gingerly accepted the $5 bill like it was a fragile egg.  “Thanks! What are you doing here, anyway?”

          “Umm. Hard to explain. I’m in big trouble.  I kinda sorta might have gotten in a                  big fight with my mom and rode off, and now I’m totally lost.  How do I get back              to Atwater?”

          “Atwater?  No idea. We’ve mostly been staying nights out north, I don’t know this              area.”

          “That’s okay. I’ll figure it out. See you, Eric.” 
 
Enrique rode off.  He turned another corner...and was shocked to see down at the end of the block...what looked like that same large person with the same very bright flashlight walking slowly the other direction. It both scared him and made him curious. He sped up, determined not to let them out of his sight this time.  As he drew close, the figure turned and waved and pointed down the street to his left.  Enrique glanced that direction, then looked back- at nothing.  No person, no light...it was bizarre.

He tried to quiet his thoughts.  He was totally lost.  He had no coat, no phone, no money.  He shivered, and kept riding.  In the next hour, the same mysterious person and light reappeared two more times, waved at him and pointed a direction...and then disappeared.  Enrique kept following, and finally recognized where he was. He’d made it back to Atwater.  He was so cold and hungry, he decided to just go home and face the music. But as he approached his street, the light appeared one final time, and he was pointed off toward the left.  He took it, and realized he’d been directed toward the tiny neighborhood church his family went to. And he suddenly remembered it was Christmas Eve.  Should he just show up, or go home first, or...?  But the mysterious light had waved him this way, so he stashed his bike in the bushes at the side of the church and went in.  The Christmas Eve service was almost ready to start.  Nobody is going to believe any of this, he thought.  His Sunday School teacher Mr. Smith spotted him, and was so enthusiastic about seeing him that Enrique suspected he knew he had been missing.  But all he said was “Grab a seat, the pageant is just starting!”

Enrique rolled his eyes as he plopped down in a pew. Pageants were for little kids. What was he even doing here?  He glanced behind him at the back of the church...and saw Mr. Smith talking with a policeman.  They were looking at him.  That’s it, Enrique thought. I’m going to jail. He turned toward the stage just as the music started up...and recognized the smell of a familiar perfume.  His mom slipped in beside him in the pew.  He could tell she had been crying.  He squeezed closer to her.  “Mom,” he started.  His mom gently shushed him, smiled her million dollar I-love-you-so-much smile, and whispered “we can talk later.”  Just then somebody slid in beside him on the other side.  His big brother Miguel!  Oh, man. Miguel is probably going to really let me have it, he thought.  But Miguel winked at him and whispered, “hey, bro...made it home for Christmas!”

The actors in the nativity scene had slowly gathered in the middle of the stage. Enrique knew the story, and he knew every one of the kids that were dressed up like angels, shepherds...he even knew all the little kids wearing shag carpet toilet cover hats with ears to look like sheep.  It was a tiny church, he saw them all every Sunday. There were the wisemen, and Mary and...Wait.  Wait!  It couldn’t possibly be!  He turned to Miguel- “Miguel, that kid, the one playing Joseph...”  Miguel looked at him quizzically. 
 
 
          “I’ve never seen him before. Have you?” 
 
          “Yeah, his name’s Eric...I don’t know how he got here. I...his voice drifted off.

Eric was dressed in a brown Joseph robe.  He had the slightest hint of ketchup and mustard around his mouth.  He glanced out towards Enrique with a little smile, and then returned his attention to the real, live baby Jesus in the manger at his side.

Enrique was stunned. How? He’d never seen him before tonight. They didn’t go to church here...so how...?  He had no answers.  But he did suddenly realize how very, very tired and hungry he was.  The warmth in the room enveloped him like a blanket, and he felt himself drifting off to sleep, nestled between his mom and big brother.  He faintly heard the words from the scripture- “And lo, an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them...”  Enrique bolted upright.  He grabbed his mom’s hand.  “Mom! Mom!  I saw an angel tonight!”  The funny thing was, Enrique’s mom didn’t seem at all surprised.  She just looked deep into his eyes, hugged him and said “I believe you did, Enrique.  I absolutely believe you.”

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