This week kicks off the start of the holiday season, particularly here in the U.S., with our Thanksgiving on Thursday. But we must remember that the holidays are about more than sharing feasts with family, or even gift giving. It is an opportunity for each of us to reach out beyond ourselves. It is a chance to find the greater part of each of us — a common people, shared spirit, common hopes and despairs. This week begins the time each of us can find that core within us that unites us with each other irrespective of dissenting voices.
Given the season, I thought it apt to post an excerpt from my upcoming short story, “Holy Mother of Selina Sky.” I hope you enjoy it, and if you do, I hope that you will link others to it, that perhaps they too might be inspired to remember the point of the holiday season is greater than commercialism, greater than religion, greater than temporary love. We must remain thankful for our blessings and our pains and giving of that which we never imagined we had.
On my next day off, we were back in the art district. I tried not to be obvious as to my real destination, so I took Selina through the large park in the city’s central district. I rode my bike and pulled Selina in a fancy three-wheeled bike trailer that I could still push when needed. We’d found it second hand and were able to swap for her bulkier stroller as an even trade. I figured losing the memory of the device she was in when her mother abandoned her was a good idea. At the edge of the park, we encountered a small family who’d obviously been living there. The two children were neat and as clean as one might expect to be while sleeping on a park bench. The mother and father were nearby, with the father holding a sign asking for help and the mother bagging clothes she’d just washed at a nearby Laundromat. Selina asked me why they had their clothes outside, and I did my best to explain homelessness to the three year old. I must have done an adequate job, since she climbed out of the stroller and begged me to “Help them, Mama.”
Normally, I don’t help people in the street as you end up just subsidizing their substance abuse problems. However, you could tell these people were different. Besides, I was well aware that were it not for Terri and her husband, Dan, that could have been Selina and me. I checked my wallet. I had exactly $10 and wouldn’t have more until I was paid the following day. Even then, it wouldn’t be exactly a windfall. “I can’t baby. Daddy doesn’t have much money.”
She just looked at me with her chin and lower lip poked out. So. Very. Stubborn.
“Honey, I want to help, but I have to buy you food for tomorrow’s breakfast.”
I sighed and capitulated. “Here, baby.” I handed her my last $10. “You give it to him.” It was from her, after all.
She took the bill and to my surprise marched right past the family, still holding the money. She never even looked at them. Selina strode purposefully across a patch of grass and up the sidewalk for a full city block to a window-barred convenience store that looked like it might sell nothing but cigarettes, liquor, and guns. I was chasing behind her, once I got unstuck from the muddy grass, and caught up to her at the door of the store. “Honey, I thought you wanted to help the family,” I said.
“Need more money,” she said. The resolute look had not left her face.
“I don’t have any more, sweetie.”
Instead of answering, she began tugging at the door. After a couple of seconds, I pulled it open for her and we entered. I was wrong about the store’s inventory – they didn’t sell guns. Selina strode to the counter where an enormous, surly man in a porkpie hat sold Lottery tickets. Without so much as a word, she handed him the tenner. She gave no sign of being intimidated by his size. He took the bill, pulled off a $10 ticket, and handed it to her. She turned, still silent, and marched to the door. The man looked at me, but I just shrugged. By now, I was intrigued as to where this was headed, so I followed her. Back down the sidewalk she went, across the muddy grass, and to where the father still stood. For the first time, she smiled, and handed him the lottery ticket. He looked at her, then to me.
“It’s okay,” I said. “It’s a gift from my daughter. She must think you look lucky.”
He gave a surprisingly genuine laugh. “I could use some of that. I got laid off six months ago and haven’t found work yet.”
I told him my coffee shop was looking for custodial help, if he didn’t mind getting a little dirty.
“I live in a park,” he answered. “I can do dirty.”
I scribbled the information on the back of his sign and Selina and I headed out, now poorer than the homeless family in the park. We got no more than thirty feet before I heard a man scream. I turned, and saw the father rush over to his wife. She screamed, looking frantic, and then he turned and headed directly toward us, waving the card in the air. I found myself backing up, fearful he was angry that the ticket was worthless. Selina was watching placidly.
“Mister!” the father said, breathless. I stood, awaiting the inevitable punishment for my good deed. The father reached me, followed closely behind by his family. “Here, you gotta take this back.” He handed me the ticket.
I looked at it, then at Selina, and grinned. I handed it back. “Nope. It was a gift.”
“But … it’s too much,” his wife said.
“Like I said, my daughter thought you looked lucky.” I winked at Selina who gave me one of her best grins. We left the family there, crying and hugging in the park, holding their $50,000 winning ticket. It wasn’t enough to make them rich, but it would surely make up for whatever income they’d lost. To my unending pleasure, the father, Antonio, showed up at the coffee house the next morning, neat as a pin, looking for work. We hired him on the spot. As for me, I finally understood my role as the Holy Mother of this special little girl … this amazing, spooky, little kid. I would be poor, but we would survive. Plus, I had Selina Sky. As far as I was concerned, that made me the richest man in the city.
But that wasn’t the end of the story, not at all. You see, sharing that little bit of luck started my own lucky streak. As we left the park, we were stopped, by of all people, the surly man from the convenience store. He had been as intrigued by my daughter’s actions as I had.
“I seen what you done back there,” he said. Then he sniffled and wiped his eye without the slightest hint of embarrassment. He handed me back my $10 bill. I wouldn’t take it, but Selina did. He shook my hand and walked back to the store.
I hugged my daughter and headed out to our final stop. I still needed to buy her food for breakfast the next day, and what better way to fuel her morning’s activities than with natural, additive-free cereal? I suppose my delight as a parent kicked in, because I found myself bragging to Summer what Selina had done.
When I finished, Summer was drowning in tears. “That is the most improbably beautiful, wonderfully illogical thing I’ve ever heard.”
I was going to give her sort of an “Aw shucks, ma’am” reply when she kissed me, right on the mouth, and asked if she could come over and cook us dinner. I confessed I was a little short on funds, but we would happily share whatever we had (which was three veggie burgers, seven slices of whole wheat bread, peanut butter, and water).
She said, “Silly, the cook is supposed to supply the food, not the patron.” She hopped up onto her counter. “You may have noticed I own a health food store.”
“I did notice,” I said. My face was beginning to ache from grinning.
“Are you my daddy’s girlfriend?” Selina asked.
“Yes I am, sweetie,” Summer answered, without any hesitation.
I leaned over, kissed my daughter, and whispered in her ear, “I love you.”
She giggled butterflies and roses back at me.