Detroit. Late December. Santa was running late for his appointment. He was stuck in traffic on I-75. Santa was driving an old car.
The car had been giving him fits. The vehicle had been in the shop for a week. The car had needed a new alternator. The godless auto mechanics had charged him $500 bucks to replace it, plus labor. It was highway robbery.
They were taking Mister Claus to the cleaners.
Plus, Santa’s home heat pump had quit working. His wife had called for an estimate from a repairman. The heater guy said the old heat pump unit was shot. So they would need a new heater. We’re talking a lot of cash.
Santa didn’t make much money. He was a blue-collar guy. His main gig was working at an automotive assembly plant.
He had been working there for 39 years, welding Dearborn steel. His department-store Santa gig was only part time. A seasonal job.
The gig started one year when Santa’s beard went white, and a coworker told him he looked a lot like Kris Kringle.
The rest was history. Santa grew his beard out. He invested in a costume. It was a good side job.
But his financial life was falling apart. He was hemorrhaging money. They were living on peanuts, and his wife was buying groceries with pocket change. It was shaping up to be a hard candy Christmas.
And right now, Santa was late for an appointment at the Children’s Hospital of Michigan. He was supposed to meet a little boy and deliver holiday cheer. But right now, he was gridlocked in traffic.
Santa glanced at his watch. He was 45 minutes late, and traffic still wasn’t moving.
Santa slapped his steering wheel and used an expletive. Not a bad word. But an expletive.
Then, his car died.
Santa had to call AAA. Finally, after 90 minutes of waiting around for a ride, Santa arrived in the parking lot of the hospital. He jumped out of the AAA taxi and trotted toward the hospital doors, tugging his red stocking cap onto his head.
People stared as Santa trotted across the snowy parking lot in his red suit and shiny black boots.
He burst into the lobby, winded from exertion. He pressed the button for the elevator. He rode the elevator with several others, who all kept gawking at him like he had lobsters crawling out his ears.
“You get a lot of funny looks when you dress up like Santa. You get people who find you amusing. Sometimes people make fun of you.”
Sometimes people want their pictures with you. Other people treat you like you’re a few nuggets short of a 12-piece dinner.
Santa arrived on the right floor. He checked in with the receptionist, who gave him a lanyard and badge. It took some looking around, but Santa eventually found the right room. He knocked on the little boy’s door.
“Hello?” he said.
A little boy was sleeping in a bed. His name was Chase.
Chase’s kidneys were shutting down. There wasn’t a lot of hope for Chase unless the kid found a donor for a kidney.
Santa pulled a chair beside the bed. He held Chase’s hand as the boy slept. He sang to him softly.
Finally, the boy woke up. When he did, he saw Santa.
“It’s you,” said Chase.
“It’s me,” said Santa.
“I knew you’d come.”
“Santa wouldn’t miss it.”
The boy asked about reindeer and Mrs. Claus and the North Pole and elves and all things children always ask about. About sleighs. About milk and cookies. About time travel. About life.
Santa started to feel differently about his own life’s problems while looking at this precious and brave child.
“Can you make me feel better, Santa?” asked Chase. “Can you heal me?”
Santa smiled. His eyes became hot and waterlogged. “I don’t know, son. But I’ll talk to my boss about it.”
“Who is your boss?”
Santa pointed to the ceiling.
When Santa left the hospital room, he collapsed against the wall and sobbed. Santa was really crying. He removed his hat and cried into it. And something in him shifted.
When he finally pulled himself together, he found a doctor in the hallway and told the doc he wanted to get tested to be a kidney donor.
So they did three tests. A blood-type test, a crossmatching test, and an HLA tissue-typing test. Santa was a match. Which was a minor miracle. Santa was in surgery not long thereafter.
I bring all this up to get to Santa’s main message: “You don’t have to be Santa to help a child. Anyone can do it.”
And well, I can’t come up with a better closing line than that.