By John Kass
There’s always too much to do around Christmas, isn’t there?
Rushing through work and errands, failing at time management, worrying about bills and rising inflation, the price of gas and food, we scurry off to the store, hoping to make Christmas as perfect as we can for friends, family and ourselves.
And with all that rushing and scurrying and that external and internal pressure, it’s just too easy to be distracted and forget what is important.
If we’re lucky, sometimes an angel appears out of nowhere to remind us of what’s important.
I consider myself a rational man. But I do believe in angels.
They don’t appear by chance. They present themselves just when we need them. They’ve been sent. If we haven’t shut ourselves down in our hardened shells, if we’re receptive, we just might be able to hear them.
I heard one such angel on the radio on Tuesday morning, on Dan Proft’s radio show.
She’s 18 years old. She lives in Texas.
Her name is Shelby Houston.
But before I heard her voice, I wasn’t all that receptive, because there were too many things I just had to do.
For one thing, with all the family coming over for Christmas Dinner, I had to rush out to the butcher and pick up beef and veal bones to make stock for the famous onion soup. And, with the tech guys, working out the coming subscription system for this website, where all of us–you included–are building this community where readers get their say under every column..
And setting up interviews for the podcast, and reading more about spiking violent crime across America and the battle over criminal justice policy that allows for the release of repeat violent offenders who are let loose to prey on other victims. Defenders of these questionable policies become angry, defensive, frantic as the people turn against them. The debate sounds like the barking of dogs snarling over meat in the news.
All that barking can overwhelm the soul, and often I find it necessary to seek distance, to block out the angry noise by growing a hard bark around my heart. I’m not complaining. It’s the life that I chose. And I don’t think I’m alone in this. I suppose many of you have also developed coarse bark as armor. It’s like playing the violin while wearing mittens. You can’t feel the subtle beauty of the world.
As I pulled the car from the driveway to chase down those beef bones and veal knuckles, and thought of what to do about work, the radio was on.
Dan Proft and Amy Jacobson were finishing their daily radio show, “Chicago’s Morning Answer,” with Proft issuing a warning about an emotional message they were about to broadcast.
That was odd. Proft is not a sentimental guy. He’s about as sentimental as a rock. He hates sentimentality and is constantly warning about listeners about the “sentimental barbarism” consuming our culture, leading us toward chaos and wholesale cruelty. I agree with him. He told me once he might write a book about it.
Yet there he was warning us, his listeners, about what was coming next.
It was voice of the young woman, Shelby Houston.
She was delivering the eulogy for her father at his funeral. Richard Houston was a 21-year veteran of the Mesquite Texas Police Department. A few days ago, he died in the line of duty, shot to death while responding to an argument in a parking lot. A woman had confronted her husband, who was with his girlfriend. They began fighting and the husband allegedly shot Richard Houston before turning the gun on himself.
It was an amazing eulogy, that you may see here. But be prepared.
She sniffled a bit, but that was expected, Shelby talking of her dad and his love for her and his family. She was poised, direct, her back was straight. He’d have been proud of her. She joked about his bad dad dance moves, his complaining about the terrible taquitos he had for lunch at a 7-Eleven.
But I wasn’t ready for what would come next.
“I remember having conversations with my dad about him losing friends and officers in the line of duty,” she said. “I’ve heard all the stories you can think of and always had such a hard time with how the suspect is dealt with, not that I didn’t think there should be justice served.
“But my heart always ached for those who don’t know Jesus, their actions being a reflection of that.”
She was told she’d feel less kindly if it happened to her, “But, as it’s happened to my own father, I still think I feel the same. There has been anger, sadness, grief, confusion. And part of me wishes I could despise the man who did this to my father.
“But I can’t get any part of my heart to hate him. All that I can find is myself hoping and praying for this man to truly know Jesus.
“My prayer is that someday, down the road, I get to spend some time with the man who shot my father—not to scream at him, not to yell at him, not to scold him—simply to tell him about Jesus.”
I had to pull over to the side of the road. After she finished and the show was done, I turned off the radio, sitting alone in the car for a long time, listening to the sound of my own breathing.
Later in the day there was other news, including the suffering of the people of Kentucky and other storm savaged states after the storms and tornadoes killed at least 75 people, with more than 100 still unaccounted for.
Homes and businesses were destroyed as the exhausted dig out and search for survivors and the dead. And the American people were donating to charities to help them, because that’s what we do.
There was also a news photo of three little girls following storm rules, sitting in a bathtub in their home in Caruthersville, Mo, preparing for the storm. It was taken just before the winds hit, and tore their home apart and lifted the children into the sky. One sister died.
One of the surviving sisters reportedly told the doctors and nurses this:
Are there angels? You may not think so. Years ago I would have agreed with you. But I know they exist.
It’s not magic or sorcery. They speak to us in different ways. They don’t demand we listen. They invite us to listen.
And if only we could scrape away that hard bark that we’ve grown around our hearts, more of us might be able to hear them.
(Copyright 2021 John Kass)