by Jay O'Toole
This is chapter #18 of The Quest for Home, my NaNoWriMo novel for November 2017.
Sneaky children steal a peek,
finding out their prize.
Grief comes lurking through that leak,
Joy comes in disguise.
The Surprise That Wasn't
"Oh, how I wish D'Oso Reimi hadn't told me the surprise." Quest thought as he labored through the day of Christmas Eve to "practice his part" for that evening. "How am I going to look surprised, when I already know what the surprise is going to be?"
"Oh! WOW! What a surprise! I have a new mother!" He frowned at the mirror. "That won't work."
"My teacher is now my Mom! What will Santa think of next?" He cocked his head in wonder. "Are you kidding me? I'm boring myself."
(Dance around! Dance around! Dance around! Happy! Happy! Joy! Joy!) He shook his head. "Does anybody know how to dance in these woods? I need lessons and I need them now."
"I could teach you." Quest knew that voice. He smiled as he turned to see D'Oso, who continued. "You know, I do 'cut a mean rug,' even though I've been alive 'like forever'." A rare smirk coursed across the snout of the great grizzly bear.
"Oh, D'Oso. I'm so glad You're here." Quest bowed his head and wept.
"You do seem distressed about something. Would you like to talk about it?" D'Oso appeared effectively somber Continuing the wry smile on one corner of his mouth.
"D'Oso, I wish you hadn't told me about my new mother, before the wedding tonight."
"Did I tell you?" He turned his head slightly for emphasis. "I just asked the right questions. You told yourself."
"But why did you ask those leading questions that helped me to discover the Truth before I was supposed to know it?"
"You were searching for three and a half months for the needle that would pop the 'surprise' balloon. My questions just handed you the needle and you popped the balloon. Are you finding it difficult to feign surprise, when you already know the surprise?"
"Yes. But You already know that I am. Why?"
"I wanted to teach you two lasting lessons that you would remember for the rest of your life."
"What are they, Sir? Please, tell me before I go mad!"
"First," said Aslan, "Trusting the Giver is always more important than knowledge of the Gift. If you had trusted your Dad, your teacher and me, you would be amazingly surprised tonight. As it is you still need to create some way to bless them for their attempt to bless you, even though you're sneakiness 'popped the balloon'."
"You gave me what I wanted. Why does that feel so bad?"
"It's one of my most transforming tools for correcting anyone, who is self-willed. I give that individual the very thing they want...to teach them that what they want is not what they need. The desire for something other than Me is like the actions of a human, who drinks salt water from a life raft at sea. He drinks the water to quench his thirst. However, he realizes too late that the salty water makes him have a greater thirst and that the salty water reduces the natural moisture in his body to lower and lower levels of saturation. In other words, they kill themselves by drinking water, when drinking water is what they most need to do."
"I don't get it!" Quest nearly shouted. "What's wrong with this picture?"
"The desire to quench thirst with water is not wrong. I created that for survival," D'Oso explained. "What is wrong is the source of the water. I did not create saltwater for human consumption. I created saltwater as a purification system for fresh water. Freshwater flows to the ocean, picking up the sediments and the dirt of the world along the way. In the ocean, the sediments and dirt are attracted to and scrubbed by the salt in the water. As the sun heats the water, it evaporates into the sky, forming clouds, which condense over the land, coming back down to Earth as freshly cleaned water."
"How does this apply to my desire to learn the surprise behind my amazing Christmas present?"
"The people in a survivor's raft on the saltwater of the ocean need to trust me in order to have the fresh water rained down upon them for their survival. Trust of self, which shows up in the form of drinking the salt water, leads to death. When you feed your need to know before you need to know it, then you cause the death of Joy, which is the result of a wonderful surprise. This leads us to our second important lesson. Learning a surprise before it is given reduces the joy of opening the present. At some point, Quest, you're going to have to come clean with your new set of parents. Focus on the joy of having a new Mom, but learn to trust her rather than trusting yourself. This will help our relationship as well."
"I'm afraid I will break their hearts."
"The distress will be momentary. They will get over it rather quickly in the face of sharing their new love with their cub in their home, whom they will love even more deeply together than they did, separately. Go in peace, Dear One. It's already alright."
The Joy Restored
Dryads lined the entrance to the clearing in two rows with boughs that created a festive wedding, festooned with green and red draping between the limbs. The light snow of the day created a pristine blanket without footprints. Pine straw and candles created a warm glow around where the minister stood in the front of Nature's Auditorium.
The guests from the school and the construction project, included many bears, pumas, tigers, lions, and giraffes as well as the smaller animals of squirrels, birds, chipmunks, rabbits, cats and dogs.
The whole event was breath-taking for Quest. "It's so hard to describe. It's so hard to fully comprehend, but I love it all. It's so beautiful." The smile on his face seemed to erase the fact that he had spoiled the surprise.
About five minutes before the processional, Casa appeared at the front in a bear-sized tuxedo, although patent leather shoes were not an option for his large paws. To his left, he was attended by half a dozen equally dapper and well-clad bears, pumas and tigers. Ethelene's bridesmaids and bridesmatrons were awaiting her arrival as was the rest of the congregation.
In a few short minutes, the organ gave the opening chords of the bridal march and the minister, Brother Blackshire Grizzly, lifted his hands for the congregation to stand in honor of the bride, who was coming down the aisle to meet her proudly waiting groom. Ethelene floated down the aisle covered by a white gauzy veil. Those nearest her along the aisle could see that she wore a broad, joyful smile. "She's, obviously, so ready to make a new home," Quest thought. "I'm so ready to have a new Mom."
The rest of the wedding service was quite a blur to the young cub, who was already ready to go into the woods and play. "Mushy stuff is good for the adults," he thought, "but fifth-graders can take only so much."
All of a sudden he heard the preacher say, "I now pronounce you, 'Man & Wife.' You may now kiss your bride." And the congregation cheered.
"ICK!" thought Quest. "TMI! Can I go now?"
The new happy couple ran down the aisle through showers of birdseed, laughter and various and sundry well-wishes.
Since there was no limousine to escort them away to their honeymoon spot, Casa and Ethelene just kept loping toward their vacation spot in the woods.
Quest was greeted by his principal, Mrs. Giraffe, as his new set of parents disappeared into the woods. "Well, my good young Sir, it would seem that you and I will be enjoying Christmas together on the morrow. Santa visited me a little early and left a few things for you. Do you have anything you need to gather from your house before we go to mine?"
"I would like to go get my stuffed human. I always sleep with him. But that'll just take me a moment. You're sure I won't be in the way?"
"Of course not," she assured him. "Now that all of my sons have grown up and left home, I don't often have handsome young men sleeping under my roof. Besides, I am looking forward to this opportunity to get to know one of my favorite students better." Her smile stretched from ear to ear.
Mrs. Giraffe and Quest turned to start for her home at the edge of the next clearing. The soft crunch, crunch, crunch of the powdery snow settled a rhythm of peace in their hearts. "A spot of tea sounds like just the thing to start our first evening together, Young Sir. What do you say to that?"
"I think that is just the thing, Mrs. Giraffe."
"O, please. As long as you are staying with me, you may address me as Ms. Gerry,...if you will."
"Okay, Ms. Gerry. Do you have any Christmas traditions at your house?"
"We do as a matter of fact. We start with two tea cups each, which are filled to the brim with apple tea, which has been steeped with chai spices and orange tea, which has been steeped with cinnamon spices. The cup of orange tea we have affectionately dubbed, 'a cup of Christmas.' Then we sit around a roaring fire, singing Christmas carols. When it is late on the snowy eve, we look out all the windows in the house, searching for Santa Clause and his reindeer. Finally, we take our freshly brewed 'cup of Winter', which chamomile tea, which has been steeped with some of our family's favorite spices. We step out on the front porch to sip our tea, waiting all the while for any glimpse of 'old Saint Nick.' When the tea is gone, then we wish each other a 'Merry Christmas,' sauntering off to share the lovely dreams of Christmas sweets and joys as they greet each other in our heads as we enjoy a Christmas nap, since we may or may not sleep thoroughly, due to our great anticipation of Christmas morning."
"That sounds like a lovely, sweet, peaceful and gentle evening," Quest said. "I can't wait to begin enjoying your Christmas traditions, Ms. Gerry."
"Me, too. I hope your parents have settled into a peaceful, quiet evening themselves."
"If I know my Dad, then they certainly have. Few Earth-dwellers know how to celebrate Christmas the way my Dad does. We rarely have electricity throughout most of the year, but from December 1st through January 1st every year my Dad purchases enough electricity to light a city, I think. He has Christmas lights decorating the den, inside and out. Shimmering blues and reds and oranges and yellows and blues fill the den and the woods around our home with the warm, cherished glow of Christmas. For the last few years, since The Big Choice, Dad has created one set of white lights in the shape of a cross to remind us of the price D'Oso Reimi had to pay to purchase our salvation."
"What is The Big Choice, Quest? What sort of 'salvation' did this 'D'Oso Reimi' (as you call him) purchase? Who is D'Oso Reimi by the way?"
"Ms. Gerry, D'Oso Reimi is the reason for the season. It is His birth that we celebrate on Christmas Day. From their different perspective, the humans celebrate Christmas as the birth of Jesus Christ, the one prophesied to come in Isaiah 53. He was the suffering Messiah, who will one day return as the conquering Messiah, too."
"So, D'Oso Reimi is Jesus to the humans."
"We can see Him as Jesus, too, if we wish, but I like to think of Him as D'Oso Reimi, who is the Great Grizzly of the bears and the King of all the forest."
"Can anyone make this 'Big Choice' of which you speak? And is it somehow connected to the salvation about which you are talking?"
"The Gift of Salvation is the reason for The Big Choice, Ms. Gerry."
"How did the Gift of Salvation come to be a Gift?"
"D'Oso Reimi (or Jesus, if you prefer,) was born in the manger a little over two thousand years ago, now. He lived a sinless life. He had an itinerate ministry with twelve students for three and one-third years. He was flogged and put to death on a Roman cross, based only on spurious, 'trumped up' charges from the human perspective. He died after approximately six hours on the cross on one Friday. He was buried in a borrowed tomb for the duration of the Sabbath that weekend, and then He raised Himself to a completely new sort of life on the first day of the week, Sunday. He would never die, again."
"What is 'The Big Choice'?"
"Do you want to receive this Gift of Salvation for yourself, being changed forever by D'Oso Reimi? Or do you wish to wait and think about it?"
"I'd like to think about it. May I sleep on it?"
"Of course, but let's talk more very soon because you can't Not Choose."
Rest was sweet that night as they considered the future.