The Christmas Box Miracle: My Spiritual Journey of Destiny, Healing and Hopeby Richard Paul Evans
Since it was first published, more than seven million people have been touched by the magic of The Christmas Box, a holiday classic that is as beloved in our time as A Christmas Carol was in Dickens's.
When New York Times bestselling author Richard Paul Evans wrote The Christmas Box, he intended it as a private expression of love for his/i>/i>/i>… See more details below
Since it was first published, more than seven million people have been touched by the magic of The Christmas Box, a holiday classic that is as beloved in our time as A Christmas Carol was in Dickens's.
When New York Times bestselling author Richard Paul Evans wrote The Christmas Box, he intended it as a private expression of love for his two young daughters, Jenna and Allyson. Though he often told them that he loved them, he didn't feel that they could ever really understand the depth of his feelings until they had experienced the joy of rearing their own children, and by that time their relationship would have changed forever. In writing The Christmas Box, he hoped that at some time in the future they would read the book and know of their father's love.
As Evans began to write, he was amazed at the inspiration that flowed into his mind and heart. He completed the moving story of a widow and the young family who comes to live with her in less than six weeks, and bound twenty copies to give as Christmas presents to family and friends. In the following weeks, those twenty copies were shared and passed along from family to family, from friend to friend, and what began as a tale for two little girls became a message of miracles, hope, and healing for people throughout the world.
Mary Higgins Clark This is a charming and delightful book and it shows that the true miracle of The Christmas Box is in the thousands of spirits it has lifted and the hearts it has healed.
David Baldacci author of Wish You Well The world is a much better place because of people like Richard Paul Evans. After reading this, you'll come away feeling that anyone can make a difference. Bravo, Mr. Evans.
Dave Pelzer author of Help Yourself and A Child Called "It" This is the incredible story of Richard Paul Evans's journey to fulfill his destiny to ease the pain of others. After reading The Christmas Box Miracle, I have come to believe that a greater hand was at work here.
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Intoduction: What I Believe
This book is about forces that move about us like wind -- unseen, yet powerful enough at times to knock us over. And it's about a little Christmas tale I wrote that was the result of such forces. Some call these forces divinity, others call them coincidence. Some just call them magic.
A few years back a newspaper reporter was interviewing me about the miraculous story behind my story The Christmas Box. Near the end of the interview he said, "You don't really expect me to believe all this."
I wasn't surprised by his skepticism. I wouldn't believe most of it myself if it hadn't happened to me. "I suspect you'll believe what you want to believe," I said. "Start with what you can see. A twenty-nine-year-old man from Utah, having never before written a book, with no publishing experience, no knowledge of the book industry and very little money, writes his first book, publishes it himself and for eight weeks outsells the biggest authors and publishing houses in the world."
He thought for a moment, then said, "Your explanation makes more sense."
As a novelist I find it ironic that this story, the most unlikely of my books, is the only one that is true. Yet, as unlikely as it may be, the miracle of The Christmas Box is undeniable. According to the Wall Street Journal, The Christmas Box had one of the highest one-week sales of any book in its list's history (until Harry Potter came along). It is the only book to simultaneously hit number one on the New York Times hardcover and paperback bestseller lists and the only novel to hit number one as a self-published book. USA Today listed it among the top twenty bestselling books of the last half decade.
But more incredible are the stories I encountered along the journey -- miraculous stories of healing and curious coincidence that often defy explanation. These are experiences that have changed the way I view the world.
In telling these stories I will try not to editorialize too much. (Just the facts, ma'am.) I will leave it to you to interpret their meaning. Still, like the reporter, in the end you will believe what you will. Ironically, the opening words of The Christmas Box are perhaps even more relevant to this book:
I share my story now for all future generations to accept or dismiss as seems them good. As for me, I believe. And it is, after all, my story.
Through the course of my Christmas Box journey there are eight things I have come to believe.
First, to paraphrase Shakespeare, I believe there is more to heaven and earth than is dreamt of in most people's philosophy. I believe there is occasional interaction between our world and the unseen world. I believe the gift to me of The Christmas Box was such an interaction.
Not that I have desired such gifts. Outside of prayer, I have never sought contact with the unseen world. I've never talked to a palm reader, sat in a séance or had my tea leaves read. I've never had the slightest desire to call the Psychic Friends Hotline.
Shortly after The Christmas Box hit the bestseller lists and it became known that I claimed my story was a spiritual gift, New Age disciples grilled me intensively on "channeling" -- the phenomenon of communicating with spirits. I was not interested in the discussion. I don't know how The Christmas Box story came to me. It just did -- as if it were whispered to my mind.
The media sometimes makes light of my assertion of "divine assistance," yet I'm far from being alone in such claims. Even Robert Louis Stevenson claimed that fairies delivered his stories. My feelings on this matter are similar to author Stephen King's, who once told a reporter who doubted his explanation of where his stories came from, That was fine, as long as he believed that King believed it.
I'm not surprised by the media's skepticism. I'm likewise doubtful of most of the stories I hear of supernatural phenomena, and dismiss 99 percent of them as fanciful. It's the other 1 percent that gives me pause.
For instance, I was speaking to a large group at a professional women's conference. It was a good speech, if I say so myself. The room was packed. The words flowed.
I received a standing ovation. Afterward I was ushered out to sign books at a table in the hallway. Standing in the line was a woman, sharply dressed and well groomed, with an air of poise and self-confidence. And she was visibly shaken.
"I can't believe what I saw," she said, half whispering to me, afraid that someone else might hear her. "Has anyone else told you they saw something unusual while you were speaking today?"
I told her that I didn't know what she was talking about.
She glanced about nervously. "I can't believe everyone in the audience didn't see it. While you were speaking there was suddenly a young woman standing next to you." She looked me in the eyes. "You didn't see the woman next to you?"
Her forehead wrinkled. "I've never seen anything like this. I don't know what to make of it. It's like something out of The Twilight Zone." With that she walked away.
I didn't know this woman from Eve. Maybe she just escaped from the high-security ward of the local mental hospital, but I doubt it. First, because the mentally ill embrace their delusions, not question them. Second, because in spite of her agitation, she spoke reasonably. She acted precisely the way I would act if I saw something I couldn't explain. I don't know what this woman saw, if indeed anything. But from what I know of human behavior, I believe that she really believes she saw something.
Then again, maybe she was playing some twisted sort of prank, in secret conspiracy with a minister in Denver, an aspiring author in Maui and all the other people in other parts of the world who have told me precisely the same thing -- that they saw a young woman standing next to me as I spoke. I've never seen this young woman they speak of. Maybe she exists, maybe she doesn't. I'm not sure that I care. It's the phenomenon of perfect strangers making the same claim that intrigues me.
Second, I believe there are specific moments in each life given us to influence our life paths -- a cosmic pull of a lever that switches the tracks beneath us. History abounds in such "accidents." Like the trip to the city when Henry Ford happened to come across a motorized vehicle. Like Thomas Edison's saving the life of a telegraph operator's son and being given a job at the telegraph office, where he created his first invention, or Eli Whitney's chance meeting of the widow Catherine Green and her suggestion that he might invent a machine to separate cotton from its seeds. If such providence is evident in the lives of the great, then why not the rest of us?
Third, I do not believe we are some accident of God or nature. I believe there's a purpose to our being here on this earth, and the experiences that we have come to us for our own spiritual growth and evolution. Earth is about learning, and the day it stops, school is over. Maybe that's what Heaven is -- an extended summer vacation. Or more likely, a chance to use what we learned about being human. Perhaps we might have even agreed, in some premortal state, to the experiences and trials we face.
I was in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on a book tour, eating dinner with my media escort and her husband, when I shared with them a few of the miracles I describe in this book. When I finished, they both were quiet. Then the woman said, "We believe you. We believe there's a divinity to our lives. You need to tell the world what you've told us. We need to know there's a reason we're here."
I agree. I believe it's vital that we know of our divine life purpose. Not just to hold on to as a frightened child clutches its blanket in the darkness of her bedroom -- this is about more than easing our loneliness and fear in an apparently silent void of a universe (though it may have that effect).
Only in understanding and accepting our divine life purpose can we view the world as it really is and free ourselves from the pursuit of the "perfect life" as painted by Madison Avenue and other paradigm engineers, and pursue instead the perfect life experience -- a divine education -- so we can evolve as spiritual beings.
I believe this is among our greatest quests in life, not just to see life as it really is but to see our part in it.
Fourth, I believe that as we pursue our divine life purpose, spiritual forces will intervene to give us the experiences we need. To quote Shakespeare, "There's a divinity that shapes our ends, rough-hew them how we will." Call it, if you will, God's "micromanagement" of our lives. This, perhaps, is the very crux of this book -- to document a few of the hundreds of experiences that have led me to believe in such divinity. As I wrote in The Looking Glass,
While the mathematics of the universe may connote the existence of a Supreme Being, to me it is that which defies math's probabilities -- the impossibility of two objects colliding in an infinite void to alter each other's eternal course. In this there is divinity and an unseen hand. Perhaps this best describes my concept of God -- the divine, unseen wind that propels us through the uncharted waters of our own destiny.
Such interference may be a major, life-changing event, or as simple as an experience I had a few years back in San Diego. It was before I had a publisher, so I was driving myself from a book signing, navigating a rental car on unfamiliar roads in the dark, looking for my hotel. I was lost, lonely, hungry and tired. I was also discouraged, as the book signing had been a failure.
Suddenly I had the powerful impression that I should pull off the road into a parking lot. I followed the prompting. As I pulled in, I noticed a bookstore that I hadn't seen from the street. I thought that it must be why I had the impression. For some reason, I thought, I needed to visit that store. I found a parking place and put the car in park. Immediately there was a knock at my window. I turned to see a woman standing outside. She was young, dressed in tattered clothing. Two small children huddled behind her. I cracked open my door.
"Excuse me, sir," she said, "my children are hungry. I was wondering if you could feed them tonight."
I looked at the children, who hid their faces from me in their mother's coat.
"Of course," I said.
Across the parking lot from us was a Jack in the Box drive-in. That night I ate dinner with Mary, Angel and Bobby.
Fifth, I believe that in order to fulfill our life purpose it is vital that we ask for divine assistance in our lives. There is tremendous power in desire, and the unseen powers of divinity that can affect our lives are oftentimes just waiting for us to ask for their aid. I believe these forces must wait for our request because they are bound by the law of free agency and cannot intervene in our lives until we exercise our will and ask them to.
For instance, many years ago I had the desire to visit China. Though I didn't have the financial means for such an excursion, I wrote down my desire and prayed for the opportunity. Then, unintentionally, I forgot about the goal. Six months later a friend of mine called out of the blue. She was a media buyer and had just won a trip for two to China. She wanted to know if my wife and I would accept the trip from her as a gift. It was a life-changing experience for us, as years later, influenced by our trip, we adopted a little girl from China.
The biblical injunction "Ask and it shall be given" is paraphrased in nearly every religious text I have studied. I learned early in life about the power and efficacy of prayer. I believe that the miracles in this book would not have been possible had I not first asked for them. That which we ask of life is indeed all that it can ever be.
Sixth, life is not a solitary affair and was never meant to be. On our individual journeys there are companions placed along the trail, fellow sojourners who forever alter our paths and help determine our destination. Sometimes they carry us when we are too weary to carry ourselves. In retrospect, it is evident to me that throughout the Christmas Box Miracle there were people who stepped in at the right place and right time to carry the miracle forward. Without them this book would never exist.
Seventh, I believe that preceding each personal and spiritual victory there must be a moment of adversity -- a literal trial of spirit. These dark times, when many fall with despair, are the real moments of triumph. I need not cite more than Winston Churchill's magnificent speech: "Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, 'This was their finest hour.'"
For everyone who strives for success, there must come such a time. The greatest moments of most endeavors are not usually caught on film or applauded by large, adoring crowds. These are the trophies, not the victories. They are not the same thing.
The greatest moment of the Christmas Box miracle was not the day my book became a number-one bestseller. The greatest moment (as you will read) was a deeply personal and solitary triumph of spirit -- a battle waged in no more spectacular a place than a shopping mall parking lot without another soul in sight.
Remembering that each noble cause must be preceded by a struggle enables us to better walk with courage and faith.
Eighth, I believe the most important thing that we can learn in our divine educational process is how to love. To love God and to love others. They are the same thing, really. We cannot love God without loving his children. Neither can we love God without serving his children.
A few summers ago I took my oldest daughter, Jenna, on a humanitarian mission into the jungles of Peru. After a few days of hiking and sightseeing, crocodile hunting and dining on piranha (it tastes like chicken), we set up a clinic in the jungle. Our group consisted of about twenty volunteers, mostly college students, along with two optometrists and one dentist.
My job at the clinic was to assist the eye doctors by searching through suitcases filled with used eyeglasses in an attempt to match the doctors' prescriptions. Jenna, along with another teenager, used hand puppets to teach the Quechuan natives about hygiene and sanitary practices. She also helped watch the children while their parents were being seen by the doctors.
A week and a half later, Jenna and I sat with our backpacks in the Lima airport waiting for our flight home.
"What did you learn from this?" I asked Jenna.
She said she wanted to think about it. About twelve hours later we were sitting in Chicago's O'Hare Airport when I noticed that Jenna was crying. I asked her what was wrong.
"Dad, we have so much and they have so little." Then she said something I will never forget. "I know what I've learned," she said. "We love those whom we serve."
My teenager got it. Love without service is as dead as faith without works. It is only in reaching beyond ourselves to save others that we save ourselves. As Victor Frankl, a psychiatrist and a Jewish survivor of the Nazi concentration camps, wrote in his book Man's Search for Meaning, "I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love."
Love is oftentimes most beautifully rendered on canvases of travail. Like the men Frankl wrote about who, despite their own starvation, shared their crusts of bread. Or like Jesus on the cross.
In relating my story, my hope is that you might see not just my journey but the possibility of your own. It may be your first step in achieving all that you desire from your life. And your own greatest destiny.
Copyright © 2001 by Richard Paul Evans
Chapter 1: Gifts
My grandfather had what Christians call "gifts of the spirit." Grandpa Evans was a serious man, devout in his religious beliefs and conservative in dress and speech. Still, at least to me, there was a discernible energy in his presence. Many said that he could, at times, work miracles. As a child I witnessed some of those miracles. None, perhaps, was more evident than the one I saw after my brother Van was electrocuted.
I was nine years old. It was the same year our family moved to Utah, leaving behind the beautiful, palm-tree-lined streets of Arcadia, California, a suburb to the east of Pasadena.
Arcadia lived up to its name. It was a childhood Eden, lush and innocent, the kind of place where a child should grow up. Peacocks freely roamed our neighborhood, as did we children. It's no wonder "Arcadia" pops up frequently in my books.
Things were good for our family there. My father was the administrator of a large chain of convalescent hospitals and my mother never worried about money in those days, except that we might have too much and that it might spoil us. I remember once asking my mother if we were rich.
"We're rich because we have the gospel," she replied.
"But are we rich?" I asked, hoping for a better answer. She frowned and turned away.
We had a large two-story house with a heated swimming pool, surrounded by a brick terrace and ornamental kumquat trees and a water fountain with a Greek-style statue. My father drove a brand new Buick Riviera. We had a pet capuchin monkey named Tony that could chirp happily like a bird and bite like a vampire. We went on frequent family outings, often to Long Beach or Disneyland or whatever particular amusement my mother and father conceived of for the weekend.
In spite of our money, my mother, as thrifty as she was pious, sewed many of our clothes. For one of our family outings she made us matching pink-and-olive shirts, which to my teenage brothers' and sister's horror, we wore in public. It was Mom's way of keeping track of all eight of us. We looked as wholesome as a sixties Tide commercial. As a kid I thought all this was great. But this was in the tie-dye and bell-bottom culture of the sixties, and to this day I'm surprised that my teenage sister, Heidi, ever came out of the house.
I was the seventh of eight children in a Mormon family, the sixth of seven boys. I suppose ours was typical of large family culture; a pecking order existed, easily understood by even the youngest of us: big fish eat smaller fish. My parents told me that my first uttered sentence was, "Help, Mom, Dad. Help." This came at just two years of age, as my older brothers hung me over the stair railing by my feet.
My older brothers spent much of their time devising tortures for us younger ones. One Christmas, one of us kids received a large cloth tube made for crawling through. The older brothers threw it into the swimming pool, then made us younger children swim through it. Their idea of fun was to close off the ends of the tube, forcing us to hold our breaths and swim back and forth until we looked really desperate. Only then would they open one of the ends.
When my second-oldest brother, Scott, bought his first motorcycle, influenced by the antics of Evel Knievel, he immediately began to jump it. First he jumped small wooden ramps, then dirt hills. Then he jumped us. I remember lying on my back and watching the motorcycle sail over me. His best was sixteen feet and three brothers.
I'm not sure why we never defied the brothers. Perhaps we realized that resistance was futile. With a family as large as ours, unless we were bleeding, an appeal to our mother was nothing more than a guarantee for future retaliation from our older brothers. More likely we were just fools. The older brothers were cool and we wanted to be part of their world. If lying beneath a flying motorcycle was what it took, so be it. It's a wonder that any of us younger children survived childhood.
Just two months before my fourteenth birthday my father lost his job and, with promise of employment, we sold our home and migrated to the warmer and more prosperous climate of southern California.
The Christmas Box
In the spring of 1969 my father lost his job. Slowly our Camelot crumbled. My father sent rÉ#233;sumÉ#233;s out by the ream, but without success. With a family as large as ours to provide for, things quickly turned desperate. When, after nearly a year of unemployment, he was finally offered a job at Idaho State University, in Pocatello, he took the position. Packing up the Buick, he drove to Idaho with Heidi and Mark, while my mother and the rest of us stayed behind in California to sell the house.
Though we missed our father, we were glad that Mark was gone. Mark was the third son and our most feared tormentor. He used more imagination in devising our tortures. One of his originals was to come upon us as we slept, slip an empty plastic milk jug over our hand, then tickle our face. He would also sit on our chest (this was torture enough, we thought), then pour honey on our face and call the dog.
It should be noted here that later in life Mark became my intellectual hero. He speaks seven languages and helped engender my love for literature, convincing me to read dead authors with just three words, "Chicks dig Shakespeare."
At this time my oldest brother, Dave Jr., now the man of the house, convened a family council. We younger children respected Dave. First, he was six feet tall, which was about a mile taller than the rest of us. Second, he had little interest in torturing us. He was old by our standards, seventeen, and he had discovered girls and the Doors and had better things to do with his time than waste it with the affairs of children.
Dave had taken an empty pickle jar and told us that we needed to fill it with money so that our mother could afford the gas to drive to Idaho to see our father. Everything we could earn was to go into that jar. Dave worked tirelessly, mowing lawns and doing odd jobs for neighbors. At a time when he might have been using his money for dating, all of his earnings went into the jar. I was not so noble. I remember raking leaves at a neighbor's home and receiving thirty-five cents for an hour of work. When I got home, I wrestled with sacrificing my precious coins to the jar. Nobility lost. I never put the money into the jar. In truth my offering was never even missed, but I had not done my part, and even though I was only eight at the time, I still feel shame when I think of it.
When the house finally sold, my parents decided that a small town like Pocatello would not afford their children the opportunities they should have in life. My father quit his job and we moved together to Salt Lake City to live in the dilapidated house my mother's mother had left vacant by her death.
In truth, the pea green wood-shingled structure was anything but vacant. It was rat infested from its peeling tile floors to its mildewed ceilings. At night Van and I, lying shoulder to shoulder in the same bed, would pull the covers over our heads and listen to the rats scurrying beneath and above us. The movie Willard was big at that time, a peculiar horror film about a boy whose best friend was a rat, the leader of a pack of rats that went around eating everyone who was mean to the kid.
Though Van and I were too young to see such a movie, our older brothers had seen it and regurgitated it to us in all its gory detail. Then, reveling in our terror, they garnished their telling with scenes from George Orwell's 1984, Upton Sinclair's The Jungle and any other literature that evoked flesh-eating mammals.
Van and I were mortally afraid of rats. I remember one night lying awake in bed for hours, trapped beneath the sheets by fear. I desperately needed to use the bathroom, but didn't dare leave the bed as I was certain that the moment I touched my foot to the cold tile floor, I would be set upon by piranhalike rodents intent on stripping the flesh from the bones of small boys. I don't recall the outcome of that night, though I'm sure it wasn't pretty.
We had left Los Angeles during the height of social upheaval -- when the L.A. Times headlined violent anti-Vietnam War demonstrations and university riots, LSD injected into milk cartons and razor blades found in Halloween candy. "The world has turned wicked," my mother told us. "These are the last days." Even at the age of eight, I remember that there were things we were to fear.
We children believed that Utah was to be a haven of sorts. A land of milk and congeniality, where everyone was kind and neighbors waved to one another from across the street. We couldn't have been more mistaken. We had moved into one of Salt Lake's inner-city neighborhoods, just a few blocks from the pawnshops and beer joints of State Street. My first weeks in Utah I learned that my hair and my pants were too short. I learned to fight and the meaning of several four-letter words I had never even heard before.
I remember one of our first Saturday mornings in Utah. My mother drove us down to see the kids' movie at the Avalon theater, a mile from our home. The Avalon still exists, though it now shows only old black-and-white films for a dollar and hosts the Amazing Maxwell the Hypnotist on weekends.
As the three of us -- my brother Van (who was two years my senior but not much bigger than I), my little brother Barry and myself -- walked out of the movie, we were followed by a group of children. One of the older boys had picked the three of us from the crowd and had announced that he was going to beat us up. I suppose the children thought it at least as good a show as the movie, as a large group had congregated to watch. The boy, a Hispanic kid a head taller than I, stood in front of us, taunting us with his fists and calling us chickens, while we stood against the cinder-block wall of the theater, outnumbered and frightened.
Finally, deciding a good beating would be less painful than the humiliation, I told the boy that I would fight him. Tucking my thumbs in my clenched fists I began weaving and bobbing, mimicking what I had seen boxers do on TV. Though fighting was part of the routine at home, we did not really punch. We wrestled and twisted and pinched and choked, but for all the torture doled out by the brothers, punching took something malicious that we did not possess.
Being defended by his little brother was too much for Van. Before a single punch was thrown, he pushed me aside, then commenced to beat the stuffing from the boy. Van did not stop, even when the bully, bloodied and crying on the ground, pleaded for mercy and then for his mother. I remember feeling a great deal of satisfaction as the children the bully had gathered to witness our demise now laughed at him.
When our mother arrived a few minutes later in our green, wood-paneled Chrysler station wagon, not one of us told her about the incident. I suppose we were pro-tecting her. In all my years in California I had seen only one fight, and it was pretty much by mutual consent of its participants. I decided then that Utah was not civilized, and I suppose that that particular neighborhood still isn't.
Still, those days were not without joy. The old house stood at the end of a dead end street and had several acres of wooded land and a large creek that ran through it. It was ideal for a family of boys. We had BB-gun fights (though we younger siblings were mostly just used as targets for the older brothers, as we ran from tree to tree while they shot at us) and we navigated the creek that ran alongside the house, looking for gold. At one point the creek ran into a bramble thicket that we could not penetrate until we built a wood-plank raft that rested on top of tire inner tubes. Lewis and Clark could not have felt a greater thrill of adventure as we launched our craft upstream and floated to uncharted areas, wondering if we'd return alive. We did not find gold but we encountered some furry, muskratlike mammal, and that was just as good.
We caught grasshoppers and spiders, tried them for being ugly and executed them. We dropped ants into fields of ant lion pits, watching with fascination as the lions would suddenly emerge to drag their prey below. Once we had a water snake harvest and filled a gallon ice cream bucket with snakes, which, to my mother's horror, we forgot to tell her we had left in the pantry.
In addition to the four-bedroom house where we lived, there were numerous antiquated structures begging to be explored, for they were locked and had not been entered for years. These included a potato cellar, a chicken run, a toolshed filled with mysterious ancient rusted artifacts and an old green house with a thousand broken panes of glass. It was our duty, as boys, to seek out and destroy every pane that had somehow survived time.
And there were trees to be climbed. Willow, maple, sugar maple, weeping willow and tree of heaven. When we were hungry there were apple trees -- Jonathan and red Delicious, plum trees and Bartlett pear and at least one black walnut. We would fill our pockets with walnuts, then carry them to the concrete sidewalk and break them open with hammers, prying the soft, white meat from the wrinkled shells. We would eat them until they gave us canker sores.
Though we climbed every tree big enough to hold us, our favorite was the giant, thick-stumped box elder that towered above the irrigation ditch in the front of our yard. The tree was far too wide to climb without a ladder, so we gathered pieces of wood and rusted nails from the shed and pounded steps into the tree until we were able to scale its heights. The brothers had tied a rope to it, with a pulley fastened to bicycle handlebars, so that we could ride down it, screaming across the yard.
One quiet Saturday afternoon Van and I decided to climb the tree. It was just the two of us that day, as our older brothers had all gone to Bear Lake in northern Utah, to work with my father, who, in spite of his master's degree, had gone back to his earlier profession as a building contractor.
As Van climbed above me, a loud buzz suddenly split the air.
There are moments of our lives that are burned in the most precise detail into the flesh of our memory. This is one such moment for me. I was still clutching to our makeshift ladder when Van fell past me, his face inches from mine, his eyes bulging from their sockets like a cartoon caricature. He fell about sixteen feet to the dirt and root-laced ground below, landing with a loud thud. Seeing his lifeless body sprawled out below me, I shimmied down from the tree, then ran to the house, screaming all the way for my mother.
My mother emerged to see her child lying motionless on the ground, his eyes closed, his skin black. With me crouching beside her, she knelt down and gently shook him as she called his name. To my relief, Van's eyes suddenly flitted, then slowly opened. He began to moan. "Is it true?" he asked. "Am I really dead?"
By nightfall, I learned what had happened to my brother. Van had started to slip and, reaching out for a branch, had grabbed instead on to a nine-thousand-volt power line that the tree had grown around.
I remember looking at my brother's hand. The electricity had burned through his flesh, leaving the power line's imprint deeply melted into his fingers, erasing his fingerprints, as it passed through his body and blew out the soles of his shoes.
The doctor told us that an electric shock of that magnitude would almost certainly kill someone -- especially a child. He believed that my brother had been dead and that, fortuitously, the long fall to the ground had started his heart again, like CPR. This was purely conjecture on his part, for electricity is a peculiar thing and what might kill one person won't kill another. I am told that's why death row inmates are shocked three times in electric chairs. Still, the chance of surviving such a shock is pretty slim.
My grandfather came to see us the next day. After talking to Van for a while he examined his deeply burnt and blistered hand, then anointed my brother's head with a few drops of olive oil. Then he laid his own hands on my brother's head and blessed him, so that he would be healed without mark or scar. Several weeks later, when the doctor unwound the bandage, the hand was perfect. Even the fingerprints were back. "There's a force at work here I don't understand," the doctor said to my mother.
I don't think my mother was all that surprised.
Copyright © 2001 by Richard Paul Evans
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