A misunderstood man experiences God's love, thanks to a visit from a timorous cherub.
Posted in , Oct 20, 2011
Computers aren’t my thing, but my children insisted I get on Facebook. I was grateful for it when Mrs. Moran tracked me down and “friended” me.
Back in Brooklyn, when I was a child, Mrs. Moran, a former showgirl, made every holiday in our building an extravaganza—especially Christmas. She cast all the kids in the building in her very own Christmas pageant.
As I confirmed her friend request, my mind drifted back to the year I turned seven. My brother, Thomas, and I were making our way up to Mrs. Moran’s apartment for our first rehearsal.
“Oh, please, let me be an elf!” I said.
Elves got to wear striped pants and pointy shoes and be as silly as they wanted. Whoever played Mary had to be serious and sad about not finding any room at the inn. Mrs. Moran insisted we had to become the part we played, so I wanted to play something fun.
“Well, you might get to be the donkey,” Thomas said.
I hoped not. Last year’s donkey had tried to carry a rather hefty Mary on his back and collapsed.
“Too bad we can’t have real animals anymore,” I sighed as we reached the second floor. “Just because that dog from 3B made a mess on the carpet.”
“Maybe the Beast will be in the show,” Thomas said. He glanced down the hall that led to the man’s lair, otherwise known as apt. 2-E.
The Beast, as we kids called him, had only lived in our building for a few months, but he’d captured all our imaginations. Nobody ever saw him come in or go out. There was no name on his mailbox. He had no visitors. His blinds were always shut.
The only sign of life was the grocery bags that appeared in front of his door. And the scary noises we heard above our heads at night, like something being dragged across the floor. Thomas said it was the Beast making a meal of his latest victim.
Just thinking about him gave me goose bumps. Thomas and I ran the last few steps to rehearsal.
The Santos boys got to be the elves. Thomas was the donkey. I got the worst part of all: the angel. The angel had to appear heavenly and make a speech about Jesus.
No somersaults, like the elves. Instead of a hat with bells, I had to wear a wire hanger halo covered with tinsel.
“Remember, you must become an angel,” Mrs. Moran told me a few weeks into rehearsal. “It’s your job to tell people that God loves them. Just think of all the people in the world who are lonely or hopeless.”
I recited my lines again, but my eye drifted to the Santos boys. One of them was doing a handstand.
On the night of the pageant I stood stiffly in our living room as Grandma Josie adjusted my halo. Thomas galloped around braying, donkey ears flopping. He’d become a donkey. I still didn’t feel like an angel.
“The Santos boys get to give out presents for Santa,” I said wistfully.
“You think too much about Santa and not enough about God,” Grandma Josie said around the pins in her mouth. “Santa rewards the good. God loves us all. He never turns his back on anyone. If he sees someone in trouble, he sends an angel to help. Santa’s elves don’t do that.”
I squirmed under her gaze. “Santa gives presents,” I said.
“God’s gifts are greater than Santa’s. They never get old or break. Some of his gifts you don’t even see.”
We were interrupted by a horrible scraping overhead. I jerked my head up so fast my halo fell off.
“Another victim,” Thomas said solemnly. “Perhaps the Beast is really an alien!”
“Or a vampire!” I said.
“I will talk to your parents about the kinds of movies they let you watch,” said Grandma Josie. “You get to the lobby.”
We joined the rest of the cast: shepherds in bathrobes, sheep in woolly sweaters, candy canes wrapped in ribbons. Mrs. Moran went from one child to the next, reminding us to live our parts completely.
We performed our first song while our parents took pictures. Then we moved upstairs to the second floor. Six corridors branched off from the central area, each one leading to a single apartment.
“Some of our tenants can’t come out for the show,” Mrs. Moran said. “So I’m going to send some of you to individual apartments.”
Please not me, I thought, but she was already pointing.
“Jacquelyn, you will go to 2-E.”
The children gasped.
“Be an angel,” Mrs. Moran said, giving me a gentle push. Thomas waved as if this might be the last time we ever saw each other.
I stepped into the corridor that led to 2-E. It felt darker and colder than the other hallways in the building. It also seemed a mile long.
The ceiling light buzzed ominously above my head. My footsteps echoed on the floor while the voices of the other children grew distant.
I reached the metal door at the end of the hall. There were no decorations hanging here, just a big peephole shut tight.
My hand shook as I reached up to press the doorbell. Then I waited. One, two, three, four… If he didn’t answer by the time I counted to ten I could tell Mrs. Moran nobody was home. Seven, eight, nine...
Snick. The peephole slid open. A big round eye regarded me from the other side of the door. The Beast! I wanted to run, but something held me still.
You must become an angel, I heard Mrs. Moran say in my head.
I opened my mouth, but the sight of that beastly eye made my mind go blank. I forgot my lines, so I said the first words that came into my head.
“I am an angel of God,” I said. “It’s my job to tell you that God is not like Santa. He never turns his back on anyone. He loves you and you’re not alone. God bless us, everyone.”
Behind me, in the lobby, the other kids sang “Silent Night.” I joined in where I stood, making up in volume what I lacked in pitch.
The eye at the peephole never moved. I turned and ran back to the lobby. Maybe I had quoted my grandmother and Charles Dickens instead of Mrs. Moran’s speech, but I had faced the Beast in 2-E and lived to tell the tale.
My family moved not long after. I never saw Mrs. Moran again—until she found me on Facebook.
“That Christmas show was so much fun,” Mrs. Moran said when the two of us met for a reunion lunch.
“Except the year I had to face the Beast,” I said. “The man in 2-E.”
“He was a hero,” Mrs. Moran said. “John lost a leg in World War II, he saw terrible things. Today people would say he had Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome and agoraphobia. I used to buy his groceries. He was a good man, not a monster.”
I put down my sandwich, no longer hungry. “We kids told such terrible stories about him,” I said. “He must have been so unhappy living there.”
“Actually, John had one of the best moments of his life in our building,” Mrs. Moran said. “He never tired of talking about the night an angel girl came to his door and told him that God loved him and he wasn’t alone.”
Maybe I hadn’t ever understood Mrs. Moran’s method acting. But that night I had become an angel. God saw someone in trouble and sent me to tell him he wasn’t alone.
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