Pages Navigation Menu

A Barefoot Angel

Thomas J Parlette

Christmas Eve, 2017

“A Barefoot Angel”

A story adapted from Jim Simons “St. Michael”, printed in “A Dog in the Manger” Roman & Littlefield, 2015

 

This is a story that is completely explainable, but when it’s told it may also be unbelievable. As I look back on the events of that Christmas Eve, it all makes sense. I mean, I don’t think there really was anything supernatural but…

Let me start at the beginning and the beginning is at church. My wife, Sarah, is part of the Christian Education Committee at our Church, and that group is charged with, among other things, the annual Christmas pageant. I’m sure you’ve seen one before. A lot of little children dressed in bedsheets, which, depending on how they are wrapped, means they are either angels or shepherds. The older kids play the characters with speaking parts – Mary, Joseph, the innkeeper, the angels. The kids work hard, and so do the committee members to make sure everyone knows their lines and where to stand – and everyone leaves with a smile on their face. It’s hard to miss with kids. Although last year’s pageant did border on disaster.

The MacNamara twins, eight-year old boys, were part of the heavenly host, but they were clearly up there against their will. During the Gloria in Excelsis they got into a shoving match that resulted in little Marion Kelly getting pushed into the manger, sending baby Jesus, played by a Cabbage Patch Doll, sliding across the sanctuary floor. At that moment, the teenage girl playing Mary, who was, unbeknownst to anyone, in the early stages of a 48-hour flu, got sick on Joseph. Joseph screamed, sending twelve tiny preschool sheep scurrying down the aisle to find their parents. One of them tripped over an extension cord and the star of Bethlehem came crashing down. This of course dispersed the rest of the cast and brought the whole pageant to a swift conclusion.

So Father Elston, our pastor, led us in a rather awkward version of Silent Night, and the rest of the service wrapped up pretty quickly. As I said – pretty much a disaster of biblical proportion.

So when Sarah came home from the October CE meeting, she had an announcement to make. “This year we’re doing the Pageant with adults.”

“Adults – do you really think you going to get a group of adults to dress us in sheets and bathrobes and do that.”

“Michael,” she said with a tone that let me know that a little more support on my part was expected, “this is a wonderful idea. We can show the kids that Christmas is for adults too and that the pageant is important. We can model for them what a pageant can look like and how they should behave and next year they will have that in mind when they do it again.”

“I don’t know about that – I’m skeptical.”

“So what else is new,” she sneered, as she stomped upstairs to get ready for bed.

I knew enough to stay downstairs for a while, sitting in the darkened living room, listening to my wife upstairs. I was already in my pajamas – or more accurately, I was still in my pajamas. I had been in them all day. In fact, I hadn’t been properly dressed or out of the house in a month. I was a mess. I wasn’t in the mood to be thinking about Christmas, or pageants, or children. Especially not children. I guess I should explain.

When I was 12 my best friend was named Jack. Were inseperable. We had known each other since kindergarten. We did everything together. We were scouts together. We played little league together – I was the pitcher, Jack was the catcher. I even went on vacation with them to the lake.

One Friday on December, I was staying over at Jack’s house and we woke up to the smell of smoke. The house was on fire. We jumped out of bed and opened the door and the hallway was ablaze, Thick black smoke poured into the room. Jack began to cry. I went over to the window and tried to open it, but it was painted shut. The smoke was getting thicker. We were coughing and could barely keep our eyes open. I don’t what I was thinking, but I grabbed a chair and threw it at the window. I cleared away to glass and stuck my head out the window. It was about a 30 foot drop. The fire was in the room. We had to get out. Jack was paralyzed with fear, but I dragged him to the window.

“We’re going to have to jump.”

“I can’t.”

“We don’t have a choice. Come on, we’ll go together.” And I grabbed his hand.

Jack was in a daze as we sat on the windowsill getting ready to jump. “It’ll be Ok- just hang on to my hand.”

As I jumped, I was only vaguely aware that Jack had let go of my hand.

I woke up in the hospital with a broken leg, cracked ribs and a concussion. My parents were there to tell me that Jack had died. A neighbor had witnessed me trying to help get Jack out, and in the midst of tears and sorrow, told me how proud they were of me. But it was little comfort. Before I left the hospital I had decided what I would do with my life.

I stopping playing baseball, I quit going to scouts, Every spare minute I had, I spent at the firehouse. The firemen all knew who I was, they’d been there that night. They were wonderfully kind. I helped to wash the truck and clean the equipment. I learned how everything worked, and when I was a teenager, my parents gave me permission to ride with the trucks to the fires – where I stayed out of the way and helped behind the scenes.

By the time I was 25, I had graduated from the fire academy and was hired by the city. I would redeem that awful night. I did well as a firefighter. I knew what I was doing and I took few risks. One day I even had my picture on the front page of the morning paper, running from a burning apartment building with a baby in my arms. They gave me a medal. They gave me a medal. But in spite of the accolades and promotions, I still needed to do something. I just didn’t know what.

Last month we had a three alarm fire at a residence. We got there in time to keep the house from being totally gutted, but the family lost all five of their children to smoke. Something in me snapped. They had to take me to the hospital, where I stayed for a week. I’ve been home ever since. I thought I had put Jack’s death behind me, that I was working that through with my job. I believed that if I was diligent at it that I could keep people from dying. But then these children died and there was no reason. There was nothing I could do. I didn’t want to work anymore. I didn’t want to do anything. I talked to doctors and shrinks. Father Elston came over to the house several times, which was remarkable because my church attendance had been erratic at best. He’s a good man, but he wasn’t much help.

How could anyone believe in a god when things like this happen. How can anyone have joy when innocent children die. I was a mess.

Sarah was supportive. She pushed gently and cared for me – but she didn’t pamper me. She made me be responsible. Eventually, around Thanksgiving, I had returned to a desk job with the fire department. I was still incredibly depressed and deeply cynical, skeptical about everything in life. Sarah tried to get me to go back to church – but I refused.

“Michael, you can’t just turn your back on God.”

“Why not, what’s God ever done for me.”

“You’re alive, aren’t you? Think of all the stuff you’ve been through. And I’m not just talking about when you were twelve. Think of all the people you’ve helped, the baby you rescued that time. God must be with you.”

“Hm”, I grunted, I thought about Bah Humbug – but I bite my tongue.

“Look, I don’t know why those awful things happen Michael – nobody does. But I do know you’re alive and you had better not waste that gift.”

I was unconvinced.

Sarah was undeterred by my negativity and set about to make sure this year’s pageant was a success. She found a group of adults who were not only willing to do the pageant, but who were excited about the possibility. Sarah cast herself as Mary.

Because adults were involved, the whole pageant became more complex, with extensive lines to be learned. Sarah convinced me to help her with her part, and in spite of my attitude, I figured I owed her that much. So every evening in December we went over her lines, with me reading all the other parts. I even managed to attend the dress rehearsal a couple of days before Christmas Eve. I have to say I was impressed. It actually looked pretty good. Maybe not a disaster this year. So I agreed to come to church and witness Sarah spectacular success.

At about 4:00 o’clock on Christmas Eve, our phone rang. Sarah answered and a short conversation ensued. When she came back into the living room, I could tell she was upset.

“What’s wrong?”

That was Dr. Applings wife. He was called into emergency surgery at the hospital.

“So?”

“So? – he was supposed to be my Gabriel and I don’t have anyone to fill in. The pageant’s going to be ruined.” And she started to cry.

I sat there for a second. I wanted to put my arms around her – but I just couldn’t. The thing she had worked so hard on was about to fall apart.

“Don’t worry,” I said, “It’ll work out.”

“Yeah right – it starts in 3 hours. What am I going to do.
And then, from some dark and seldom lit part of myself, came the most unpredictable and surprising words – “I’ll do it.”

Sarah stopped crying – more out of shock than joy. “What – you’d really do that?”

“Sure” I said, feeling less and less sure all the time. “I know the lines, I saw the dress rehearsal…”

“I don’t know…”

“What other choice do you have.”

We both got up and hugged for the first time in a long time.

Dr. Appling’s costume was at the church and I found it when we arrived. It was a long white robe onto which had been sewn some huge, elaborate wings, with a 6 foot wing span. Impressive. I put it on. “What do you think?”

“Michael, really,” my wife said, looking at my feet.

“What?”

“You look like an angel from Brooks Brothers with those pants and shoes.”

Sure enough, the last six inches of my pants were showing, as well as my black wing-tipped shoes. The good doctor, it turns out, was a lot shorter than I was.

“Now what?” I asked.

“Take off your pants.”

“I beg your pardon – we’re in a church.”

“Michael, you can’t go out there like that. No one will be able to tell you don’t have any pants on – just do it in bare feet.”

I was skeptical about this, but I had come too far to turn back, so I dutifully removed my socks and shoes…and my pants.

“That’s better”, said my wife.

The pageant itself went off without a hitch, except the baby Jesus – played by a real baby this year, spit up on Joseph, but I figured that probably happened in real life anyway.

I had told Sarah that I was going to leave right after the pageant part of the service. I made my way back to the parish hall. We had come in two cars – so I was going to meet back at home. What I didn’t count on was that we had gotten dressed in the choir room – which was of course on the other side of the building. I couldn’t get there without going through the sanctuary or outside – through 2 feet of snow, in my bare feet. So I found a comfortable couch in the lounge and tried to sit down. But of course, I had these enormous wings, so I couldn’t sit. I could stand, or I could lay on my stomach. So I laid down on the couch and promptly fell asleep.

When I woke up I had no idea what time it was. Everything was dark. Everyone had gone out the front doors or the other side of the church by the choir room. I went to the sanctuary and it was dark – nobody around. I stumbled through the church in the dark and found my way to the choir room – which of course was locked. Great – can’t through Christmas Eve without a disaster of some sort. And to top it all off my cell phone and keys were in my pants- which of course I was not wearing.

I thought for a moment, getting angrier and angrier. I had a spare key hidden in the bumper of my truck, but I was still going to have to walk through two feet of snow in bare feet. So I took a deep breath and made my way through the parking lot – in bare feet and angel wings.

Let me tell you, it was a challenge to get into my pickup with six foot angel wings sewn onto my back, but finally got behind the wheel in a position that didn’t seem too life threatening, and started the engine.

The Logan County road from the church to our house is lone and deserted. We hardly ever see any traffic on it. Even at this hour – whatever hour it was – I was struck by how beautiful and peaceful it looked in the moonlight and the snow. I was feeling a bit better – and thank God my heater was working, I could almost feel my toes again. And that’s when I saw him.

There was this kid, maybe twelve years old, standing in the middle of the road, waving his hands. Pulled off to the side of the road was a red minivan.

I pulled up behind the minivan and opened the truck door. I nearly strangled myself as my wings got caught in the shoulder harness, but I finally got myself untangled and got out of the truck. For some reason the boy was standing there wide eyed with his mouth hanging open.

“What’s wrong?”, I said.

He just stared at me in my angel costume for a moment and then remembering what was happening said, “It’s my mom – over here.” And he led me over to the door of the minivan. And there was his mom – his very, very pregnant mom.

“O thank God” she said. “I’m having a baby.
“Just relax, I’ll drive you to the hospital.”

“You don’t understand, I’m having this baby right now,” she said, taking those short little breaths they teach you at childbirth classes.

I felt dizzy. I backed away and ran back to my truck, my bare feet slipping on the snow-packed road. I tuned my two-way radio to the emergency channel and called for an ambulance – but I knew the hospital was a good twenty-five minutes away.

I slid back to the van and climbed in next to the young woman. She was having another contraction.

“Don’t worry,” I lied, “I’ve done this before.”

Actually, I had been trained to do this – but I had never actually done it. But I wasn’t going to let her know how scared I was – she was scared enough already.

And so I delivered a baby.

It’s strange what goes through your mind during a crisis. While I was yelling “push” and hoping everything was alright, I could see myself. I was jumping – jumping from a window in to the darkness. I could see Jack in his little league uniform, smiling behind the plate. I could see a family sitting at the dinner table, five children holding hands and saying grace. I could see a woman giving birth – not in a van on a country road, but in a born, near a manger. And there was an Angel, saying “Behold! I bring you good news of great joy, for unto you is born a Savior who is Christ the Lord.” And then the father, who had been sitting at the table with his children, got up and walked over to me. He put his arms around me and said, “Mike, it’ll be Ok – I love you.”

Then I looked in my hands and there was a child, screaming and crying. There was a woman I didn’t even know and she was crying to -tears of joy. And so was I.

I could hear sirens in the distance as I handed the baby to the mother and got out of the van. Headlights far down the road were drawing nearer.

Then I suddenly remembered that I was dressed like a barefoot angel with 6 foot wings. These guys in the ambulance would know me. I’d never hear the end of it. I hurried toward my truck.

“Hey” someone shouted.

I turned around, it was the kid.

“Where are you going.”

I’ve got to go. You know, it’s Christmas – busy time for me.”

“Are you really an angel?”

And then, for some reason I don’t quite understand, I said, “Always remember this night and remember how much God loves you.”

I turned back toward my truck.

“Hey wait – what’s your name?”

“Michael,” I said – and then I drove away.

When I got home, Sarah was worried and waiting. I started to tell her about what had just happened and then stopped. I simply said I had fallen asleep in the lounge and woke up to a dark empty church. She took appropriate pity on me and we went to bed.

The next morning, Christmas morning, I was awakened by Sarah, jumping on the bed with a newspaper in her hand. She showed me the front page – “Take a look at this” and there was the headline…

“Archangel Michael delivers baby.”

Sarah read me the first paragraph: “A Middletown woman told paramedics that when she went into labor driving her minivan on Logan County Road last night, an angel came and delivered her baby. Megan Norris claims that an angel, who stated that he had done this before, found her and her 12 year old son and delivered the baby. The angel, who said his name was Michael, was 6 feet 4 inches with sandy hair and blue eyes. He was driving a red pick up truck. Paramedics arrived to find the healthy 7 pound, 5 ounce baby boy, his mother and brother alone in the van. The Norris’s have decided to name the child Michael after their heavenly obstetrician…”

Sarah looked at me, “Is there anything you want to tell me?”

“Yeah – stop buying those tabloids in the supermarket checkout line.” She hit me with a pillow.

I did tell her the whole story – and we laughed and cried. But something more and indescribable – something deeper – had happened. Somehow, something got – fixed. In the midst of all the doubts and darkness, life had won and I was back. It took the birth of a child to do that. Actually, it took the birth of two children. One was born in a minivan with the assistance of a barefoot angel.

But the first was born long ago in a stable. The angels there were real and were right about the good news. The good news of a father who wraps us in his arms, who whispers his love in our ear, and welcomes us home.

Shall we pray…