every year for a decade, the grandchildren on my side of the family (my kids and my sisters’ kids) have put on a christmas play. for many years, it was a reasonably straight version. everyone rotated parts — both of my kids were baby jesus when they were babies; and my brother-in-law built a handy collapsable manger for re-use each year. in later years, it got a but funky, with new settings and new characters.
but the teenagers aren’t so interested in putting on the play anymore.
my daughter liesl got to do it enough times, she doesn’t mind too much. but max just turned 8, and there wasn’t a play last year; so he only has fuzzy memories of this thing that had so much hype when he was really little. he was sad that there wouldn’t be one again this year, so we encouraged him to make something up — either a play or a story or a song. max decided to write a modern version of the christmas story, set in detroit. it’s still a little undecided, but it sounds like he’s going to read it and try to enlist a few cousins to act out the parts while he reads it.
we wrote this in three sessions, and my main job (besides typing) was to ask a lot of questions: do you remember what happened next in the christmas story? how could that happen here? what would happen to someone in mary’s situation? i did suggest the “emmanuel” ending — he wouldn’t have remembered that; but he loved it as soon as i suggested it, and the words are his.
Once upon a time – well, actually, it was this year – but, anyway… there was a girl named Mary. She was 15 years old, and she was poor. Her dad had passed away, and her mom disappeared. So now, Mary was the oldest. She had a brother who was 7 years old, and his name was Carl. Plus, she had a little sister who was 3 years old, named Sophie.
Mary’s family lived in two boxes, on the streets of Detroit. Sophie was too young to sleep by herself, so she shared the big box with Mary. Carl got his own, though. Carl had named his box “No Girls Allowed”; and every time he said that name, he would add, “says Carl!” His sisters would always laugh – even though Carl wasn’t really joking.
My name is Max Shepherd, but everyone calls me “the shepherd”. I live in a box across the street from Mary, Carl and Sophie; and I’ve been watching them for months. I want to make sure that no one messes with them. I trade peanuts to get food. Whenever I see someone walking past with any type of food, I try to trade my peanuts for their food. They usually won’t trade, but sometimes they will because they feel better about trading than just giving me money.
Anyhow, back to Mary’s story.
One night when everyone was asleep — last spring, when the weather was a LOT nicer than it is now in December — I heard a noise, and peeked out a hole in my box. I saw a glowing light that was shining over Mary’s box. I never talked to Mary about the light at that time. But six months later (three months ago now), when it was really obvious to everyone that Mary was pregnant, we talked about the light. Everyone was sure Mary either had a boyfriend, or someone had done something bad to her. Those are pretty much the only reasons why a 15 year-old girl living on the street would be pregnant. But Mary insisted that an angel visited her and told her God had put a baby inside of her, and the baby was going to save the world.
Well, of course, everyone just thought Mary was totally crazy!
I said to Mary, “Everyone thinks you’re crazy, you know?”
She smiled at me, and said, “I don’t care that people think I’m crazy. I just care that God chose me! Shepherd, do you think I’m crazy?”
“No,” I said. “I saw the light that night. I peeked through a hole in my box. I know you’re telling the truth. Are you hungry? I’ve got some peanuts.”
It was a little bit silly to offer her some peanuts at that point, but the conversation was making me a little uncomfortable and I didn’t know what to say.
A couple months ago, Mary got so big with that baby in her that Sophie had to move out of Mary’s box. And she moved into Carl’s box. And Carl changed his box’s name to “No Girls Allowed, Except Sophie”; and he still always added, “says Carl!”
Mary tried to go to the hospital, but they wouldn’t let her in, because she doesn’t have any money. They said she could come back after the baby’s born, but they can’t offer anything to her now.
After Mary got that news from the hospital, she, Carl and Sophie disappeared. It made me feel really sad and afraid for what might happen to them. But there was nothing I could really do.
So here we are: Christmas Eve. I was in my box, just getting ready to go to sleep when I heard a noise. I mean, I hear noises all the time, but this one was weird. When I came out, I saw an angel. Now, usually, the angels are going to be girls; but I could tell this one was a boy, because it said, “doood, don’t be afraid, doood! It’s a message from God, the holy one. Like, baby Jesus is born, doood!”
Obviously, I had no idea what was going on. The angel could tell from my face that I was confused. And I said, “I don’t get it.”
He said, “doood! Don’t be afraid, doood!”
“Ok, hold up,” I interrupted him, because he was going to repeat everything he’d just said. “Just help me find where Mary and baby Jesus are.”
“Mary?” said the doood angel. “Oh, yeah, I know her – she’s the one who gave birth to Jesus! Tell you what, doood: all you have to do to get to them is go a little bit west, and you’ll find a glowing path on the street. And you just follow that glowing path, and eventually you’ll find her, doood. And plus, like, how you’ll know yer close, doood, is, like, you’ll see a star – a big one, too, doood – and it will look like it’s, like, right over the spot where, like, JESUS IS! oh yeah, and Mary. Well, goodbye doood!”
Then the doood angel went up to a bunch of other doood angels in the sky, and they started rocking a Jesus song, singing, “Glory to the God-doood, like, in the highest!”
The whole thing was kinda funny, really. But it was also really amazing too.
So I started to walk west, wondering whether I would really find a glowing path or not. But a few blocks over, I saw a glowing path on the streets. And I followed it to a big parking lot. The parking lot was for the “Star Shopping Plaza”. I looked up at the sign, and it had a HUGE star on it. I looked below the star-sign, and there was a place where someone was selling Christmas trees (well, they sold them during normal hours, but this was late at night, and no one was there). And next to the Christmas trees was a little petting zoo to entertain little kids while their parents were picking out a Christmas tree.
I walked over to look, and in the petting zoo, right in the middle of all the animals, were Mary, Carl and Sophie. The animals weren’t walking around, and they weren’t sleeping either, or eating and drinking. All the animals were staring at a baby – a baby that was laying on a pile of hay.
I walked over and looked in the baby’s eyes, and I could tell it was Jesus. I don’t know how I could tell – I just could. Mary, Carl, Sophie and Jesus all stared at me; and then baby Jesus started to laugh! And we all started to laugh!
I didn’t know what to say, so I asked Mary what the baby’s name was. She answered, “Well, Shepherd, I’m calling him Manny, but his real name is Emanuel.”
I said, “That sounds about right!”
merry, peaceful, awe-filled, aware, transcendent christmas to all of you. no more posts from me ’til after the weekend.