On Christmas Eve when I was six years old, I woke up from that inexplicably thick slumber of a child, my young bladder calling to me. Instead of going back to bed, I tiptoed down the dark hall toward the living room to make sure that my parents had remembered to leave milk and cookies for Santa.
I stepped quietly into the living room and stared straight at two boxes of Breyer model horses – exactly what I wanted for Christmas – under the lamp table at my mother’s feet. I looked away from them, as if they were Eve’s forbidden fruit, or a scene from a rated R movie. I quickly turned around, knowing I had seen something I shouldn’t have. I contemplated slipping back into bed, pretending that nothing had happened. But thirst and curiosity got the better of me, so I walked back toward the living room.
As I walked down the hall, I called to my mother and told her that I was thirsty. There were no model horses at her feet when I saw her this time. I followed her into the kitchen, checking on Santa’s cookies as I made quick work of a small tumbler of water.
I slept fitfully, trying to figure out what had happened. Maybe I only thought I had seen those model horses. But I knew deep down that I had seen them. I acted surprised the next morning, and the joy I felt in receiving my gifts was genuine. But still, I couldn’t stop thinking about my forbidden discovery. My mother must have hidden the boxes when she heard me walking down the hall.
Finally I told my mother what I had seen. She told me that Santa came too early and dropped off my toys and he had to make them disappear when he saw that I was awake. My mother’s answer suited me just fine. But even at six years old, I knew it was more likely that there was no Santa Claus, that my parents had bought my model horses, as they had my gifts every year before. But I chose to continue believing.
I chose to cling to an ideal, even in the face of that which would normally crush it. I wanted to believe that there was a jolly man who cared for all the little children in the world, even the ones who were poor and whose parents couldn’t afford to buy them presents. I chose to believe in magic and in kindness that I could feel, rather than let my joy be killed by some silly thing I could see.
I take that lesson with me even today. I want to believe in goodness, and in dreams. We are all given the choice to believe in ourselves, and in others, in spite of the collection of flaws that makes us all human. We are given the choice to believe in the world around us, despite all of the terrible things that happen in it.
Some may say that I am too trusting, or naïve. But I believe that people, for the most part, are inherently good, and that there is more beauty in the world than ugliness. They say it is difficult to have faith in that which you cannot see. But when I think about those boxes of model horses, I realize that it can be just as hard to have faith in the things we do see. And it is just as rewarding. This I believe.
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