Light a Single Candle

Copyright © 1993, 2011 William Mego

A little more· than a week ago, an unstamped letter was dropped into a mailbox near the Clallam County Courthouse, in Port Angeles, Washington. So far, nobody knows who wrote it, or who sent it. I learned about the letter when I read a copyrighted Associated Press wire summary, early last Monday morning. Perhaps by now you have, too.

It is the quintessential Christmas tale, a child's letter to Santa Claus, dropped into a mailbox with a blind trust in Providence that most people lose by the time they're fourteen. Apparently that trust was justified, because instead of throwing it in with all the other letters to Santa, the people at the post office sent it to the Washington state office of Child Protective Services.

They, in turn, sent it to a detective in the Port Angeles police department, who has spent the better part of the week trying to find the little boy who wrote it, a boy he knows only as "Thad."

I have seen a picture of the letter. It appears to be the sort of thing a boy in the third or fourth grade might write; the printed words are large, awkward, and un­evenly spaced. I have no idea if it is genuine, although teachers who have seen it believe that it is. But it is certainly a letter for our time, and most of the people who have read it have been impressed by it:

"Dear Santa Clas

"Please help. my mom and dad this Christmas. My dad is not working anymore. We dont get many food now. My mom gives us the food she would eat. Please help my mom and dad.

"I want to go to Heven too be with the angels. Can you bring me to Heven? My mom and dad woud not have too by things for me no more. That would make them happy. Please bring my dad a job and some food.

"I live in my house like last year. We got candils. A city man took the lights away. It looks like we don't live heer no more. We do. I will wate for you to come in my room.

"I will not slep. Wen you give my. dad a job and some food too my mom I will go with you and the rain deer.

"Merry Christmas too you Mrs Clas too the elfs too ..

"Thad"

This is being written late on Thursday evening. A couple of hours ago, I talked to a young woman named Chris, who works there in the Courthouse, in Port Angeles, Washington. For the last week police and county officials have been looking for recent electrical disconnections, searching school records, and trying to find Thad's family. "It's not that bad here," Chris told me. "There are agencies to help people when they can't pay their light bill, and people who will give them food. It's not de­pressed."

"We have a lot of outlying," she said, "Maybe they haven't heard about all the publicity to come forward. Or maybe they heard about it and don't want to."

"We've had calls from all over," Chris said, "so many that we can hardly get our work done. There have been calls offering food, and money. People have called offer­ing employment for the father, everything. There's even a Thad's Family Fund, and a phone number people can call with a recording on it."

"And you still can't find him?" I asked. "Did you ever think it might not be true?" She was quiet for a long time. Then she said "Some of us think that, yes, but we hope ... " She didn't finish the sentence.

We hope. That's it, isn't it? No matter how impoverished we become, physically or spiritually, the one thing we refuse to give up is hope. That's why we have Project Hope, and why "Keep Hope Alive" can penetrate even the most ghetto-hardened heart.

And that's probably the reason that we send our young troops on a mission across nine time zones to Somalia. It's political and sociological madness, of course. But we believe that their world is dangerously close to becoming a world without hope, and that is something we will not tolerate. We are there, we say, to"Restore Hope."

It's easy to become cynical about Christmas, schizophrenic little holiday that it is, until you realize that it's all about hope, hope that we will once again be with our departed friends, hope that, despite everything we've done, we will be forgiven.

And it's about our hope that, after the sun has dipped so low, that it will rise again to warm the summer sky. It's a lesson in hope for our children, so that their faith might endure through a life of hardship and disappointment. And it's a celebration of the whispering hope that has helped many of us through the blackest hours of despair.

And it offends us that there may be, out there somewhere, a child who has lost his last bit of hope. If Thad is real, all he has left, he believes, is his little shred of life that he means to trade for food because he believes it's worth nothing more than that.

We refuse to live in that kind of world, and once a year the more fortunate among us come to understand that. So we will reach out to Thad, and to the families living in cars along Ogden avenue, to our older friends living in forgotten crannies around town, and to all the parents forced to live through the holidays watching a seriously ill child cling to life.

We may not be able to offer them much, but that should not prevent us from being there. That is because sometimes even strong people stagger under their burden, and may need someone to remind them that, even if "the city man took the lights a way" and all they have is "candils," that it is better to light one of those candles than it is to curse the darkness.