He's pacing in the basement room of the theater. His suit is spotless and impeccable, and his eyes are wide, and brimming with excitement and joy. He is sweating and antsy. He doesn't stop moving. All around us people are smiling because they know why he's come all the way from L.A. Upstairs there is a young lady marking the turn of another year in her life. She believes he's in Las Vegas but has been secretly hoping he'd find a way to get to her for her special day. He's planned his entrance to the second. I leave him there and run upstairs just in time to see her eyes light up at all the friends gathered in her name. But nothing compares to that moment when he approaches her from behind, and whispers in her ear. The room applauds, but around them time and place slip away and the rest of us get a small view into heaven.
My mother puts down her tea as the second song on the CD begins to play. "I can't NOT dance to this song," she says. And so we spend the next hour of her birthday dancing around the living room laughing like children. We kick off our socks for better traction. We sing, we tell stories. We plan the Christmas menu. But the whole time, we are dancing and dancing.
"I'm really worried about her," the nurse says, " I can't find her anywhere in the building." I take the elevator to the atrium. The scene that greets me makes me forget why I am there for a moment. The sky outside the huge glass panes is completely dark. Headlights sweep the glass as cars go by, but the beams never make it inside. Instead, the glow of low lit lamps give the large community room a homey warm feeling. On all of the couches, patients are gathered. Some are reading, others play chess. One man is hunched over a table using colored pencils to design a card for his little daughter. A woman in the corner picks up scratchy Christmas carols on a tinny radio. On the porch several men huddle together sharing cigarettes and stories of the street.
By the windows there is a Christmas tree. The lights on it burn steady in rainbow colors, and at the top an angel shines brightly. She seems to be guarding the men and women all around her.
I find the missing patient in a rocking chair across the room. She smiles weakly and says, "I know they must be worried, Shell, but I was hurting too much to get up. I'll go with you now."
As we slowly walk to the doors, I turn around for one last look. I notice a detail I hadn't seen. Beneath the tree is a small creche. The perfect wooden figures stand posed in a scene thousands of years old. Mary, Joseph and their baby boy- once cold and homeless, found respite.