Trimming The Tree

By Erich Arendall


"Is he?" my secretary asked as we began the process of walking a string of tiny lights down and around a brand new, big, fake, green, plastic, fir tree. It felt good to participate in these kinds of rituals; this year I wasn't planning on letting anything kill that feeling.

"What?" I asked back, wondering if I had missed part of the question.

"Is he?" she put all the emphasis on the word "is" that time and I knew what she was getting at.

I had wondered when something like this might come up. And even though I expected the question it still took me by surprise. Heather had known for over a month what I was, but had avoided any questions about it. She's normally as wise as she is smart, but I suppose everyone is entitled to a mistake now and again. I wasn't ready to respond to her question yet, though. We were about halfway down the tree and I wanted to at least plug in the lights before handling this.

"Is who?" I made sure that my voice informed the listener of every iota of annoyance within me. Heather ignored my contriteness. She always did.

"You know exactly what I'm talking about." See, I told you she was smart. "Quit playing around!"

"What makes you think," I grunted, leaning down to encircle the tree a few last times, "I know anything about it?" That should fluster long enough for me to plug the lights in, I thought to myself.

My secretary completely forgot about the lights she was helping me wind around the tree. "Well, because you're... you know!"

"An arelim?"

"Yeah, an arelim, an angel! I figured that you were there with the other angels singing, 'Glory to God in the highest.'"

"No such luck," I informed her while positioning myself to plug the lights in. "I was one of those who did some writing for Ezra -- we let Asiel do most of the work there -- but I never sang to shepherds keeping watch over the flock at night."

I stood up and surveyed my handiwork. The tree looked good for a $24.95 tree bought at a drug store. I thought the multi-colored bulbs really brought out the green in the plastic needles. A few passes of silver tinsel and it wouldn't matter that the tree was fake.

"You haven't answered my question." The moment was lost as Heather spoke again. "Was Jesus the son of God?"

I sighed and tried to keep from rolling my eyes as I passed her a box of tinsel. "What do you think? What do you believe?" I asked her.

She stood there quietly as I climbed back up the ladder, preparing to let the silver strands float down onto whichever branch they chose to land. She wasn't helping with the tinsel as she mulled the question over. Finally, she answered with an affirmative.

I took the box from her hand, annoyed that she wasn't going to be of any help and that she was ruining the magic for me. "Then yes," I patronized, "Jesus was the son of God."

It didn't take her long to rise to the bait. "What if I had told you 'no'?" She sounded miffed. That didn't bother me too much. In fact, it made me feel just a little bit better that I wasn't the only one who was having their joy taken away.

"I would have informed you that the whole son of God thing was a myth. And if you had said, 'I don't know,' then I would have told you that I didn't know, either."

"You would have lied?"

"You've seen me do it before. You've watched me shortchange a waiter. In a few months you can watch as I cheat on my taxes. What makes you think I would be truthful on one of the more nebulous questions humanity ponders?"

She sounded on the verge of being on the verge of tears. She wasn't ready to get fussy, but she was getting ready to get ready. "I thought we were friends," she moaned.

Another sigh escaped my lips. These kinds of conversations are never easy. I hopped off the ladder and steered her to the couch. We sat together, my arm around her. "Heather, we are friends. But if 'God,'" I wondered if she noticed the quotes I verbally put around the proper noun, "isn't going to answer that kind of question then what makes you think I can?

"Look. I'm not put here to answer questions. I'm not put here to lead people to a certain faith or to give credence to a religion. I'm here to help humanity. All of it. And any answers I give about faith will only lead to pain. You think all the Heavens were partying when Gabriel decided to introduce a new faith into the world when he spoke with Mohammed?"

I stood and helped her to her feet. "I can't answer your question, Heather. Even if I didn't know I couldn't tell you that I didn't know. All I can do is not reply and let you figure out your place as a human for yourself. It's not easy, but sometimes being a celestial being isn't a cakewalk, either."

She smiled and it was more beautiful than any tree could have ever been. I had forgotten, like she had, that all celebrations are about people. Not faith, not trees, not things, but people. I grinned at her, "now go get the Santa for the top of the tree."

You thought I'd put an angel there? Hey, if I'm not going to shove something like that up my pants... well, you get the drift.


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