My Turn: A Christmas Angel 

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Published: 1/7/2021 8:53:05 AM
Modified: 1/7/2021 8:52:53 AM

Angel appeared on our porch Christmas morning. “My name is Angel,” he had said. “I’m lost. I wonder if I could borrow your phone.” This Angel was shoeless, coatless, wet and scared. He wanted to call his mother.

He had interrupted our otherwise quiet Christmas morning. No full house this year, no mad scramble to open stockings or the usual manic energy of early-rising, eager grandkids. It was just the two of us, celebrating the simpler blessings of surviving a challenging year. We were grateful for the goodness of a warm home and an extended family tucked away in their own warm homes.

When we heard the knock on the door, we were just about to unwrap a few presents, Handel’s Messiah was spreading its musical exaltation and the cats were chasing each other in one of their decidedly unpeaceable battles. However, that an angel (angelic or not) might suddenly appear on our porch was unexpected, but perhaps not a stranger to the day’s historical narrative.

Angel explained that he had left “a program.” We realized he had not run far in his stocking feet and light sweat shirt. The program he mentioned had to be the half-way house down the street that provided court ordered shelter and supervision for minor youth offenders.

“My mom’s in Holyoke,” Angel continued. “Please, can I call her?”

He was polite if edgy, while we made the call. “Come get me,” he pleaded.

His mom quickly agreed to come but she was a good 55 minutes away. Thus, Angel would have to wait on our porch with a chair out of the rain, while we supplied him with a winter jacket, gloves, my husband’s specially ordered wool socks and a ham and cheese sandwich (“with mayo, please”). We did not, could not, however, let him in the house. In part — those many parts these days — because of the times and other personal particulars, but we tried to make him comfortable, as the rain continued to fall and the snow continued to melt. A manger-like visual played in our thoughts.

And then we called our daughter-in-law, a defense attorney in Springfield, who knows too well the court-involved procedures for families. She immediately called Angel’s mother, wanting to make sure we were all safe. Of Puerto Rican descent, our daughter-in-law spoke the mother’s language and elicited her story. That all too familiar story of a young boy caught up in a web of bravado and peer pressure, yet essentially (his mother claimed) a good kid, not violent, but susceptible to impulse and trouble. And then we waited, Angel on the porch and us inside.

There was one more factor to this story. “They’re all white here,” Angel said, referring to the program on our street. “I want to go back to Holyoke.”

This wiry boy with his dark hair, a slight stubble of mustache above his lip, a nervous set to his attitude, but maybe not able to defend himself from either the bullying of peers or his own fears as the outsider. We didn’t know, could only imagine the consequences of a challenging placement away from home, which is why we did not contact the program staff. Though we knew such program provide a critical alternative to incarceration. We knew too that Angel was a scared kid and it was Christmas.

It took less than an hour, for Angel’s mother to appear and for Angel to wave good-bye and disappeared into her car. At the same time, someone from the program appeared and we could see a conversation taking place and then the passenger door sprang open. Angel dashed from the car racing, still in his stocking feet, down the road towards the intersection. “Quite a runner,” my husband noted, once an athletic coach and particularly appreciative of such coordinated grace and speed.

In no time, his mother caught up with him, gathering Angel back in the car to head home on Christmas Day. We were out wool socks, a pair of gloves, and winter jacket, but then I suspect we received the real gift of that day — the knowledge that we could still trust enough to open our doors to a stranger, even in these hard times. And the reminder that compassion and judgment often walk hand in hand and that as 2021 approaches, we embrace the fervent hope that children everywhere, all those non-angelic Angels, may find their way home.

Ruth Charney is a resident of Greenfield.

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