I remember when Santa was real.
He was everything that was right about childhood. He was peace, he was hope, he was light. He was about the promise of good things to come. He was about twinkling trees and hot cocoa and good will. He made people say hello and wish happiness for you and mean it. He made folks hug more and love more. He made perfect strangers smile at each other. He embodied the promise of all the good things humanity aspires to-- goodwill, tolerance, respect and dignity--and for a month or two each year, helped us all live up to them.
What happened? Where did the innocence go? What the hell happened to my jammies with the feet and the candy canes and the carolers? Where has the magic gone?
Maybe it left me that one hot summer when I saw my mother, strung out on the booze and pills my asshole step father fed her, slumped over her steering wheel with her car nose first in a ditch. Maybe it had left me even earlier than that, wrenched from me when, spending the night at the babysitter's house, I watched her father, who's son had been murdered, crying quietly at their kitchen table early in the morning, repeating over and over "Why did they kill my son?" I was only 8 years old. I had no comprehension of the depth of his pain. I just knew that it was real, and that the world was a lot darker than Rudolph and Frosty had led me to believe.
But a funny thing happened on the way to middle age.
The magic came back. My kids were born, I became happily married, I have a great home and a great career. I came to realize that in spite of 9/11 and rampant crime and murders and wars, people still serve turkey to the homeless on Thanksgiving day. Grandparents still bounce grand-kids on their knees. Yes, people can still be vain and heartless and mean. But they can also give you a random hug or a warm smile or a hearty "Merry Christmas," or even a "Happy Holidays" and mean it.
Also, and most importantly, as my wonderful grandpa Perry taught me, though there is darkness everywhere, we can flip on the light switch any time we want.
All of these years, I've been looking for Santa Claus and finally found him staring back at me from my bathroom mirror.
Now that's what I call magic.