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Recognizing the angels among us

December 16, 1999|By JOELLEN BARNHART

Are you expecting a column filled with holiday sap? It's my Yuletide duty because I truly believe Christmas is a special time of year. It's a time to reflect and focus on the kindness we extend to one another.

cont. from lifestyle

My doorbell rang today. When I answered it, I saw two smiling third-grade girls standing on my front porch.

"Can Michael come out and play?" the girls chimed. These are the words that only angels could say, I thought to myself.

For you see, my 9-year-old son, Michael, has Down syndrome and this was his first invitation to play outside with other classmates.

For the next hour and a half the threesome rode bikes, played in the sandbox, tossed a baseball and shared the precious moments linked to genuine friendship. It felt like I watched these playful scenes from a floating position. My heart danced with nervous excitement.

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During a chocolate chip cookie and milk break - and out of earshot of my son - I asked the girls if it was hard being a friend to Michael.

"No way," stated one of the young ladies. "He's the nicest and funniest boy at school."

I waited for their wings to sprout.

Do you recognize your own angels? You meet them at the office or plant.

They live next door or greet you on the street or you meet you in passing during a vacation.

They may be working parents doing their best to give their children a memorable holiday brimming with the spirit of giving. Despite the demands of work and family, these angels manage to find some extra time and energy - would someone please e-mail me the application form for the extra energy? - to do a little something more.

Consider the following, and you'll soon recognize more angels living among us.

Employees of Avalon Manor Health Care Center recently donated their own sick leave for a fellow employee battling cancer. Their caring spirit spread to Lenox Distribution Center, where employees took Christmas into their own hands and delivered a stream of presents to the entire family.

How about Nick Giannaris and George Turner and the growing number of volunteers who put together Christmas with Nick? They serve a wonderful holiday feast on Christmas morning to hundreds of people as a way to celebrate the season's true spirit.

And don't forget the contributors to the Salvation Army's stocking and Christmas angel program or the many service clubs that provide Christmas celebrations for kids and their families. Each year, volunteers secretly work to ensure that many children have something to look forward to when they wake up Christmas morning.

You see, Christmas is not always about Pokmon, Furbys or super-charged race cars with a life-like Jeff Gordon that zoom all over the room.

Working throughout the year

Often, these same angels and many more continue their work throughout the year by checking in on an elderly neighbor or by reading to a kindergarten class. They fix a surprise dinner for a busy mom or simply listen to a friend work through a rough time. They mentor a fatherless child, minister to prisoners or pray for the healing and welfare of a sick baby. I think teachers who see the potential in a student that no one else notices are angels.

But some of my favorite angels are the folks who illuminate their yards with plastic Santas and millions of colored light bulbs.

How do they do it? Answer: They simply give of themselves. These amazing feats don't come from Herculean strength or the mind of a rocket scientist. They are deeds delivered by a generous spirit.

Consider the work of the late Haven Hoffman, who for years served steadfastly as our community's Mrs. Santa Claus. How many children and families would have had no joy at Christmas without her effort to organize a community of elves? She's gone now. She earned her wings many Christmases ago.

I always have had an affinity for angels. It is comforting to know that there are "beings" out there who care and look out for others.

JoEllen Barnhart is assistant to the director for Frostburg State University's Hagerstown Center. She has three sons.

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