By Risa Levenson Gold with Artwork by Jean Zaleski
It was a bitter cold, rainy December twilight in Manhattan several days before Christmas. I was waiting in the persistent drizzle for the Sixth Avenue bus to take me and my four children uptown from Greenwich Village to our apartment.
As we shivered at the bus stop and tried to stay dry, I noticed a poor man holding a tiny, very bedraggled Christmas tree that looked like something he had found in the trash. He caught me looking at him, and he asked if I had any spare change to give him to buy a meal. After counting out our bus fare and checking all our pockets, I realized I had only eighty-five cents left over. Somewhat embarrassed and with apologies that this would not be enough to buy dinner, I gave him the change.
As a Jewish family, we don’t celebrate Christmas and wouldn’t have need of his tree, and I had no extra money with me to give him for shoes. I tried to think hard about how to how help him because the man’s condition broke my heart. As our bus seemed very slow in coming, it occurred to me that perhaps I could pray for him and that maybe that would in some way lift his spirits or comfort him. So mustering all my strength and concentration and focus I turned inward and began to pray from every part of my being. I asked as deeply as I could for God to help this man, trying to pray from my thoughts, my heart, and as complete a sensation of my physical presence as I could.
It seemed like a very long moment that I stood there broken-hearted, dripping wet and beseeching heaven from the bus shelter. The man stood before me downcast and destitute. Throngs of people brushed past us rushing about their holiday shopping, oblivious to his plight. The traffic light turned red and then green and then red again and still no bus in sight.
All of a sudden a tall, handsome young man with dark curly hair and carrying a shoebox came walking up to the tree man.
“Here man, these are for you,” he said, handing him the box.
Astonished, the tree man looked in the box. “Why, these are just my size and they’re waterproof! Just what I needed! How did you know? Hey—”
The tree man broke off because the tall, curly-haired man had given him a reassuring pat on the shoulder and had walked into the crowd and disappeared from view.
“Mom, did you see that? That’s incredible—the man gave him shoes!”
Just as I was trying to recover from my surprise, a woman walked up to the tree man and said, “That’s a beautiful little Christmas tree you have there. How much are you asking for it?”
“Twenty-five dollars,” said the man.
“I’ll take it,” the woman said. “It’s perfect for my apartment. I’ve been looking for a small tree. And I’ll give you an extra fifteen dollars if you’ll walk it to my apartment.”
The man’s face lit up with a combined look of joy, relief, and disbelief. “Of course I will carry it for you to your apartment,” he replied in wonderment.
My heart almost stopped beating. I found myself completely speechless.
The tree man lifted his little tree and prepared to go. Looking me in the eyes he said, “You did this.”
“No, no, it wasn’t me,” I said. It was God, I wanted to say, but I couldn’t muster the words. I stared, my eyes filled with tears, as he trudged off happily carrying his tree and his shoes. And then with a great splash, our bus arrived.
“Did you see that? Did you see that? Kids, did you see that?” I asked my children.
“Yes, Mom,” they answered, “yes” over and over, “we saw everything.”
They persisted: “How did the man know to bring him the shoes? Why did the lady buy that tree that no one wanted?”
We climbed into the warm, welcoming atmosphere of the bus and shook the rain out of our hair and eyes. Gathering my children around me, breathless with astonishment, my words tumbled out.
“I don’t think those were ordinary people we just saw—I think they may have been divine beings. We all witnessed this together; let us remember it for the rest of our lives. Don’t forget this, don’t forget this.”
“We saw Angels!” sang out my son.♦