I’m running 25 minutes late to meet a dear friend for a tiny bit of Christmas shopping. I’ve made a wrong turn that’s taken 15 minutes to redeem and then hit the extra holiday traffic. Gah!
As I bolt from my car, I stuff the Santa Hat on my head. Despite the fact that I’ve been wondering for the past few days whether I should bother. Wondering whether it matters at all.
When I finally reach for the door to enter the store and greet my friend, I hear a woman behind me exclaim, “It’s one of Santa’s helpers, one of his elves!” For a split second, I look around for an elf, until I realize the lady is talking to her wee son about me.
He is probably 4 years old. He stands agape for a moment. Transfixed by the notion that he is two feet from magic. His eyes gleam with that delicious childlike mixture of possibility, hope, wonder and delight.
I’ve seen that look before. I’ve worn that look before. That look hushes the hustle and bustle and suspends us in an infinite moment of transcendence. It is magic.
His mother explains a bit bashfully that her little boy thought I was Santa Claus when he saw me from behind. He just wanted to say hello, so they had followed me into the shop. Although she reiterates that I am merely an elf, her sidekick couldn’t care less about my lesser stature. He’s struck magic gold out here running errands with his mother in the suburban mall– a free agent Santa!
My young friend then bursts into rapid-fire joy: pointing out his sticker, ripping it off his clothing to offer it for inspection, grinning from ear to ear as he tells me about his favorite jam and how excited he is about Christmas. A few salespeople have gathered around to witness appreciatively this impromptu tableau of warmth and light.
The mom starts gently pulling the small, enchanting guy away, as we all exchange wishes of Merry Christmas, along with a heap of smiles. As he slips out the door with his mother, neck craning to get a last good look, I hear myself whispering silently to him: “BELIEVE!” Or perhaps it is I hearing him say it to me…..Either way, it matters.