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Anna’s Wish

December 21, 2014 Featured Today No Comments

By DEREK BECHER

Anna lay still on her hospital bed, which was tilted slightly upward, while she slept. Her parents sat beside her, with their hands clenched together, sharing a prayer as they watched their only child laboring with each breath. She had only just turned nine, but the brave little girl had fought the dreadful disease with the fervor of a healthy adult, impressing her family and surprising her doctors with her will to live.
Outside the window, snow fell gently in the December night. It was and always had been her favorite time of year. Anna loved the snow; she would lie in its softness and move her arms and legs to make perfect little snow angels. She loved the decorations; Anna marveled at the colorful lights, the flowing ribbons and tinsel, and the lovely trees and wreaths that appeared in every home in her town during the Christmas season.
Anna loved the music; starting in mid-November, she would play their holiday collection over and over, just sitting near their tree and wondering what a great world it would be if the music played the whole year through.
But most of all, Anna loved the peace of the Christmas season — the stillness in the air, the way strangers greeted each other with friendly smiles and sincere holiday wishes, and the story of the first Christmas. She often dreamed what a calm, serene evening it must have been that night in Bethlehem, when the Infant Jesus came into the world as the greatest gift of all. Indeed, Christmas had been one of Anna’s reasons for living, and as the minutes ticked away in the early morning hours of December 24, she secretly prayed that she would live to see one more Christmas Day.
As dawn broke, Anna’s eyes opened to the smiling and comforting faces of her parents, who fought to hide their fear and sadness. Anna struggled to swallow some water as the breakfast hours came and disappeared, and through the afternoon, she slid in and out of a sleep that helped to ease the pain she had felt during these last weeks.
The afternoon advanced, though each moment felt like a lifetime for Anna’s parents, as they watched hopelessly as their child’s light dimmed before them. Darkness fell again and seemed to suck the very light out of their room, through the window. Anna woke for a time, smiling especially when she noticed a light snowfall outside the window; it was a perfect Christmas Eve, she thought. And then, with the strength that had often surprised her doctors, Anna spoke softly to her parents, happily remembering her few past Christmases, and sharing her favorite memories with them.
From the colorful decorations, to the wonderful music, to the fun outside in the snow, to singing Christmas carols together, and to the surprise of Christmas morning, Anna recalled Christmas moments like they had happened just yesterday. Her parents were astonished with her memory, and their eyes dampened with tears as they too remembered the Christmas moments they had fondly shared with their daughter.
Anna then surprised them with a question, asking, “Daddy, is there a Santa Claus in Heaven?” He looked deeply into her eyes as both he and his wife gently held their daughter’s hands. After thinking for a moment, he said, “Of course, Anna. Santa is everywhere, and he brings joy both to children on Earth and in Heaven. He’ll be so happy to see you,” he added, with a lump in his throat.
Anna closed her eyes as her beautiful smile lit up the discoloration that the disease had brought to her once bright, young face. Truly, she beamed with the thought of meeting Santa. She lay back then and fell asleep.
Just then, the green line that had alternately zigzagged up and down on the monitor beside her bed stayed flat, and a steady beeping sound filled the room. Anna’s parents wept as they realized what had happened, also knowing that their daughter would not experience the excitement of another Christmas morning.

A Christmas Present

Like a dream, Anna felt herself walking down a long hallway. With her hospital gown still on, she looked like an angel as she disappeared into the glow of a white light, with the feeling of peacefulness sweeping through her. As she emerged from the other side of the light, a man approached her, wearing a white, flowing robe. A thick, but neat beard covered his face, and his eyes shone with a loving gentleness.
As he approached her, Anna asked the man, “Mister, are you Santa Claus?” He smiled at her innocent question, and with a soft voice, he replied, “My child, there is a Santa in Heaven, but I am not that man. He has a white beard, you see, and his outfit is red. But he is a friend of mine, since we both love to bring joy to children.”
Anna smiled then, knowing who the man in front of her was. But her eyes lit up even more, as He said, “Hold my hand, and come with me. I have a present for you.”
In an instant, Anna found herself standing alone outside a crowded inn, near a simple, wooden manger. A gathering of animals either stood or lay in front of her, and she heard the gentle cooing sound of a baby. The baby’s mother and father knelt beside his crib, which was filled with straw and covered with a thin blanket. As a bright star gleamed high above them, Anna realized she was witnessing the first Christmas. All around the world from which she had just come, people were arising to celebrate the very event that she was now witnessing.
Quietly then, after gently petting each of the animals, Anna walked up to the crib, bent over, and gave the Child a soft kiss on the forehead. Mary and Joseph smiled at her, nodding, and she then backed away to let them admire their little boy.
Anna then found herself again standing at the end of the hallway. Behind her, the bright light continued to glow, and in front of her, the friendly man with the beard stood calmly, smiling.
As he looked down upon her, the man said, “Anna, your heart is filled with love, but your body is ill; still, your love for children and for animals is needed in the world. I love you and I’ll miss you, but I want you to go back to your parents; they need your inner strength. Please, keep Christmas in your heart, as you always do, and share its beauty with everyone you meet. You will wake again in your hospital bed, and before long, you will be healthy once more. Remember, I am always with you; help the needy children of the world to learn this, too.”
With those words, and his caring smile, Anna felt herself moving backward down the hallway, disappearing behind the glowing white light. At the same moment, the steady beeping sound that accompanied the solid green line on the monitor beside her bed became interrupted with pauses of silence. Just a few moments after hanging their heads in grief, Anna’s parents turned quickly from the bed and stared at the monitor, with disbelief. They then felt a barely noticeable squeeze from the fingers of their daughter’s hands, which they still held. They turned toward her face in time to see her eyelids flicker, while at the same time, just minutes after midnight, she softly offered a faint, “Merry Christmas.”
It was a Christmas miracle in the truest sense. Anna’s secret prayer to see one more Christmas Day had been answered; indeed, she had seen and felt the serenity of the most blessed of Christmas Days, just as she had imagined, and now she had been granted many more. Her parents hugged their daughter joyfully, together, and they rejoiced at the best gift they could have received.
Together, they spent Christmas in the hospital, and it would be many days before Anna would recover enough to go home. But true to the man she met in Heaven, Anna grew up to care for children, and she brought four of her own into the world. And every Christmas Eve, with her little ones snuggled beside her, Anna told the story of the first Christmas, without a book; for she had been there, and the memory stayed clear with her, forever.

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