BICYCLES

- a Children's Christmas Story for Adults -

by Joel A. Wendt

This story is dedicated to Gabriella, Catherine Rose, Ross Gregory, and Adam, who were on my mind Christmas Eve, 1996, as their fathers (of which I must confess I was one) were absent from home for the Season. It was written the following Christmas Morning.

There once was a girl, who found herself weeping in the dark, alone in her room.

This is nothing unusual. Many people, not just children, can be found weeping, alone with their pain in the dark of the night.

But there was a difference. Although it was not a difference as infrequent as we might imagine.

And the difference was this. While she was weeping an Angel appeared, sitting quietly at the end of her bed.

It was quite a while before the girl noticed the Angel. Yet, this did not bother the Angel, who had been, if we do not mind, created out of patience and joy.

After a time the girl stopped weeping, and the two simply looked at each other for a while.

Finally the Angel reached out and touched the girl on the shoulder, and asked: "What is troubling you child?".

Now it is true that the Angel already knew the answer to this question, but the Angel also knew that the girl needed to talk about her grief.

This was the girl's answer.

"It is Christmas Eve." she said, "My father and mother have quarreled and my father is not here. I don't even know when, or if, he is coming home."

At this the girl, who was at that very awkward age between being a child and being a young woman, began to weep again, even more deeply then before.

After a while she stopped, looked at the Angel and asked: "Why?" and, then began weeping some more.

Now you may wonder why the girl wasn't troubled or confused by someone being in her room at night. The fact is that when you meet an Angel there is no question about what is happening. No doubt, no confusion. Angels aren't like anything else except Angels.

This is how the Angel answered the girl.

"Are you ever bad?" asked the Angel.

"Yes", she said, a bit hesitantly.

"Are you ever bad on purpose, knowing you are being bad?"

"Yes", she said, almost whispering now.

"Are you ever bad by accident, not having thought about what might happen?"

"Yes", she said, a little more confident.

"Do bad things ever sometimes happen even though you were trying as hard as possible to do something good?"

"Yes", she said, back to herself finally.

Then they sat together for a while. She was thinking and the Angel just was.

"O.K.", she eventually said. "Mother and father aren't trying to hurt me, and I didn't do something wrong."

"Right", said the Angel.

"But", she said, having just reinvented philosophy, "Why is the world such a terrible place?"

After a very long pause the Angel said, "It's because of the bicycles."

Now this was said with a straight face, as much as an Angel can be said to have a straight face, their normal countenance being filled with patient joy.

Even so, the girl's dark mood broke and she laughed, and then caught in this odd feeling she tried to stop and ended up almost falling out of bed because she was giggling so much.

Again there was a passage of time, so that the girl could ask her next question without breaking up. It actually took several attempts before she could get the question out.

"What do you mean by "it's the bicycles"?" she said, pulling up the hem of her nightgown, as much to distract herself as to dry the tears of both suffering and mirth.

"Well", said the Angel, "As you have guessed the bicycles are invisible, being made out of ideas and dreams, hope and despair, all stuck together with bits of conscience and just plain stubbornness.

"Everyday people wake up and ride around on their invisible bicycles, forgetting the bicycles are there and then because they have forgotten them, people just keep banging into each other.

"Soon all the bicycles are in great disrepair. Some with flat tires, some with crooked wheels, and some without even handlebars to steer by.

"It takes a great deal of courage for people, for mothers and fathers, to get up in the morning and ride their bicycles out into life each day. A great deal of courage."

Then the Angel was quiet again and so was the girl.

After a while the girl, having graduated from philosophy to theology, asked: "Why does God let this go on? Why doesn't he fix the bicycles or make people learn how to ride them without banging into each other?"

"Hmmm." said the Angel

Now before you imagine the Angel is pausing to think, I should tell you that is not what was happening. Angels do think, but when they do something happens. For Angels thinking creates. The reason the Angel said "Hmmm" was so the girl would first reflect a little about what she had said, before the Angel answered her.

"Do you ever talk to God?" asked the Angel.

"I think so," said the girl, tentative again, and rightly so.

"You should you know.", said the Angel. "You can't interrupt him, or bother him when he's doing something else. He always listens. Always. And when you talk to him he never interrupts you, never tells you he's heard it before or done it himself or knows more than you. You couldn't ask for a better listener. And when you're done he doesn't give advice, or tell you what to do, or criticize what you've done or tell you, you aren't adequate. He just listens, and accepts you and loves you, whatever you have to say."

Then the Angel asked another question.

"Do you ever get angry at God?"

"What!" exclaimed the girl. "Get angry at God !?!"

"Of course." said the Angel. "God loves you and wants your love. People who love each other get to be angry with each other. It's a way to care. God doesn't mind your anger. Now your indifference? That's another matter."

"O.K." said the girl, now a little more in touch with her own frustration. "But you still haven't said anything about repairing the bicycles or giving lessons on riding them."

'Didn't need to" said the Angel. "All kinds of excellent repair and riding manuals already out there. There's the Bible, and the Vedas, and the Torah, and the Koran, and the Sutras, and the..."

"O.K.. I get it." she said, interrupting the Angel, who didn't mind at all. Then she paused and thought a little.

"All right." she said. "This is what you've said. The reason the world is so difficult is because we all have our own ideas and dreams and conscience and stubbornness, and when we go out and ride these "bicycles" in life we bang into each other, or ride over each others feet, because we have forgotten about these invisible things. But if we want riding lessons and repair instruction, that information is already there. We just have to use it. Right?"

"Right." said the Angel.

"O.K." said the girl, after a very deep sigh, "Just one more question."

"Granted God is the best listener in the world, always available and never critical. But how come he never answers me?"

This last was spoken with a great deal of anguish, as only the very young can feel at the impossible burdens they sense when they contemplate growing up and being really free and responsible for themselves.

Again the Angel waited for a while, as silent and beautiful as a starry winter night.

"How well do you listen?" the Angel answered. "He always answers you, always. You just don't always hear him. He answers in many ways. With the continued breath of life, or with a fading sunset. With the touch of a breeze on the cheek or a crash of thunder. In the most quite place inside yourself he whispers to you. More softly then the endless beat of your heart he sings to you in the voice of the dancing colors that delight the eye. You eat his answers for breakfast and when you walk barefoot through the dew wet grass his answers touch your feet.

"Do you have eyes, ears? Or if not even these, you have the thoughts you choose. You believe or not. Is that not a great gift itself? To have faith or not, hope or not, charity or not, according to your own will. God does answer. With life, with freedom. And yes, with sorrow and with pain. Are these not gifts as well?"

Again there was a harmony of silence between the two of them. Then the girl smiled and looked mischievously at the Angel.

"Do you have a bicycle?" she asked.

Then the Angel laughed. And outside the girl's window the birds sang to greet with joy the first hints of dawn on Christmas morning.

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