Train doors opened to a cool, dense city air. Charlie sighed imperceptibly before dragging his aching legs from his seat to join an unusually large crowd exiting the subway from Fremont. For him, it was a nightly, mandatory ride toward a reluctant destination, but to most of these folks, it was a rare Friday night treat into the city of lights.
Charlie watched smiling couples with hands joined, laughing. A young mother pushed a stroller containing a sleeping cocoon. And ascending the familiar stairway to streets all too familiar, he bore witness again to the motivation behind the bulk of the crowd’s visit to the city. The lights, already abundant in the town of towns, were eternally multiplied this time of year. And Charlie, wasted as he felt by the despair of recent years and the perpetual discouragement of a life’s unrecognized potential, could not remain completely unaffected by the optimism of Christmas time.
His abused joints did not complain so much tonight as they did most nights, occupied as his mind was with the spectacle of normally worrisome people finding respite for a time by immersing themselves in the wonder of lights and decorations. Even as he cynically smirked at the thought that these peoples’ collective joy stemmed only in the temporary relief of retail therapy; even as he prepared to fix his gaze to the pavement while he walked, determining to dull the pain of a constant, crushing weight of disappointment, he slowed and became transfixed for a time.
Union square to his right, a typically unremarkable landmark in a city rife with them, was teeming with a crowd of ice skaters circling a seasonal rink. The skaters were comprised of mostly the young, and Charlie couldn’t help but wonder at their naivete.
“Poor idiots.” he thought. “They don’t yet know…”
As he was preparing to move up the road, to ditch the moment in favor of resignation to a hopeless routine, his ears picked up a sound, and the sound, unique as it was in a place so profoundly in the spiritual dark, laid hold of a deeply buried part of him before his mind had opportunity to analyze it. It was music. A group of young carolers gathered on the other side of the square. They could have been from a local high school, though the group seemed small, or maybe a church, or maybe that place Charlie no longer mentioned. He wanted to move – needed to, really, if he was to make it to work on time, but his feet became fixed for some reason, and his ears – held open by some angelic force.
“O holy night, the stars are brightly shining.” A young female voice led out from the group. Charlie’s mind threatened to cloud with cynicism, but pain was forgotten now, if only for a moment.
There are moments, and this proved to be one for Charlie, when all the fear and anxiety of life become stifled by an invasion from the realm of eternity. In those moments, it matters little if one is weak or strong, smart or dumb, clean or dirty – it only matters that the Almighty, for His reasons and His only, chooses to intervene.
“Long lay the world in sin and error pining, till He appeared, and the soul felt its worth.” The voice rang out.
Charlie realized he’d never really paid attention to the words of this song before, especially that line. Funny how that happens sometimes, when you’ve heard a song a thousand times and then suddenly listen to it the first time. He felt something wet on his face, realized too late that he was starting to cry. He wiped the tear from his cheek, running his hand across his stained and tattered uniform shirt.
“Funny how a song…” he thought to himself. He decided to stay and listen to the rest. He’d be late to work tonight.