“Following The Light” by Anne Stewart Helton

It was such a busy, rushing, late December night…dark and misty…with bumper car traffic.

I was on my way to the Galleria, Houston’s famous mega-mall for shopping and was just going to finish up buying a few more gifts for Christmas. Thinking of how I could navigate in and out of the traffic with secretly known short cuts and parking areas, I was in my own little world as I planned my route and my timing before the stores closed. The radio was playing “Blue Christmas” by Elvis. My heart was thumping the same words, “I’ll have a blue Christmas without you….”,  not for anyone specific but just that down feeling called nostalgia that sometimes hits with the holiday times.
I turned off Westheimer Rd. and onto Post Oak Blvd to be met by a long sparkle of trees lined on each side of the street. It took my breath away for a few seconds because it was so spectacular and special. Thank you Houston.

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I waited for the traffic light to change and soaked in the joy of the Christmas lights. He popped out rather quickly in front of me because, after all, I was probably only driving 2 miles per hour at that point. He had a full smile on his face, a cup in his hand and a jolly belly. He wore a roughed up Santa hat and I heard him yell through my window, “I just need a cup of coffee”.

Heck…now why did I need to hear that? I could relate to that statement!

Then I heard the car horns blaring at the chubby man in the street as I looked in my rear view mirror. He was dodging cars but managed to still look eye to eye at me. C’mon, that’s no fair, I thought! I drove a little further and made the u-turn. After all, what could it hurt to give the guy some coffee money at Christmas time? Post Oak Blvd. is not a street to stop a car on so I pulled into the shopping center driveway close to the Santa Man to hand him a dollar. He had followed my car with his eyes so he saw me and ran over to the car. He was much older than I thought and I felt safe because I was also stopped right under one of the trees lit up with lots of light. Still, my husbands’ words when I left the house, “Be careful” echoed in my head, so I barely put my window down to hand the money out.

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Santa Man had the kindest face imaginable and his eyes were translucent. He looked familiar. I tried to just hand him the money so I could move on but he said loudly, “Don’t you just love the lights on this street? You can’t help but slow down, can you??”

I just smiled and said, “I know. Well here’s some money for coffee. I’m on my way to shop before the stores close.” and I handed him the dollar. He put his head back, laughed and then pointed to the Starbucks on the corner and said, “Have you ever bought coffee in there for one dollar?” I quickly saw his point and gave him a few more. He thanked me and said, “So, how is your Christmas going? Will you be with family this year?” 

He wanted to talk. Ugh! I’m a sucker for “reality relationships”.

“Well, yes, I will be with family…well, some of the family…sorta…It’s complicated.” I said. I wanted to l.e.a.v.e. He smiled and said back, “Of course, it’s complicated. It’s meant to be difficult. The storms make you stronger, you know!” 

I thought, thanks a lot God. Of all the men asking for something on the streets, I get the philosopher. “What about you?” I changed the subject. He relaxed and said,“Well, This is as good as it gets for me now. I connect with a stranger, they help me, I help them. Then we both go on our merry way but we both remember the seeds of kindness. It works that way.”

Wait! What? You help them? I rolled the window down a little more and turned off the motor.

So, what about your family?” I asked.

“Now, that really is complicated.” he laughed. “Ha, my family? Let’s seeI didn’t mean to but I messed up my own life. I think they call it “issues” nowadays and my family moved on. Isn’t that what they call it now…moving on? Taking care of yourself? I think I just disappeared to them. I became a ghost. I asked them for forgiveness and I tried to reconnect but they couldn’t handle it. Pride is hard to let go of. But, you know what…I forgave them and I made a little family of my own on the streets. My blood family will have to deal with their own choices and I pray they are all okay…I pray every day”

I just stared at him. He continued…

He looked up at the well lit tree next to us and said, “There really is only one light we need to focus on, you know, and then pass that light on to others in big or small ways.” He held up the few dollars. “that’s what the message of Christmas is and what Jesus is trying to tell us over 2,000 years later. Do you not think HIS life on Earth was just a little complicated??!!” He grinned really big,”In fact people still complicate HIM!”

“Well, of course you’re right. His life was extremely complicated.”, I said.

He continued again…”And do you think that maybe that’s why He came as a baby and walked on Earth to teach us that we can make it through all the complications too…if we walk with HIM and live like HIM. When you think about it, it’s really pretty simple and not complicated at all.”  His face was really soft now.

I said, “Maybe you’re not a ghost to your family, maybe you’re an Angel. You’re really pretty smart you know….kinda like a wise man.” we both laughed.

“You’re the one traveling with gifts.” he smiled. “And I just got mine, right here, under the lights of Post Oak.” 

My eyes were moist now. “I will pray your family reconnects with you. You’re a special man.” I whispered.

He looked up and said, “Thanks, but I pray they reconnect with HIM”. He backed away and patted my car door and pointed to Starbucks. “Well, I’m off to get my coffee now. Merry Christmas. I hope I didn’t detain you too long and I hope your stores are still open.” He tipped his Santa hat and with a wink of his eye, I swear, wrinkled and tapped his nose and patted his belly as he walked out of site.

I sat in my car a minute, then started it back up. I drove out onto Post Oak Blvd. and smiled at the lights. Tomorrow, I thought. I’ll come back. I turned around toward HOME.

As I drove up to my 1950’s style driveway and likewise Christmas decorations, I saw the lights on my bench more clearly. Then another song came on my radio, the best Christmas song of all by Downhere was playing clearly to my now more open ears. I left the motor running, the door open and turned the radio up loudly for all to hear over my neighborhood’s still night. I walked to look closely at the lights on my decorated bench and smiled as the song played out, as if on cue….“Follow the star to a place unexpected, would you believe after all we’ve projected…A Child in a manger?…How many Kings step down from their thrones? How many Lords abandoned their homes? …to romance a world that is torn all apart…All for me…All for you..”

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