Start the Presses: Finding some good amid gloom

December can be a rough month. The stress, the obligations, the gift anxiety, and the memories of friends and family whose addresses no card will reach often make me long for January.

All the talk of peace and joy makes tragedies loom so much bigger, and my heart breaks for the nearly 30 people killed — 20 of them children — in a horrific and senseless act of violence at a Connecticut elementary school Friday. I'm certain a fund will be set up to help the victims, and I urge anyone to offer any support they can — even if it's just a prayer.

But we go on; we have to. And we should remember that horrors like this are an aberration, and that the world is filled with beauty and innocence and light. To that end, I want to share a story my uncle, who works for the city of Philadelphia, sent me this week.

By way of background, Chris Evans — who alternatively goes by “Unk,” “Bubba Grizz” or “Uncle Buck” — is 6-foot-3 and sports a full, white beard. He also describes his weight as being “between 250 and a ton,” meaning he more than vaguely resembles a certain character seen at malls and on cards this time of year.

This is his story, a true one, so I'll just let him tell it:

An older, heavyset lady, panting after climbing the stairs to the City Hall courtyard from the subway, her young granddaughter in tow, her head swiveling from side to side to get her bearings, stops me to ask directions.

“Could you tell me where Macy's is, something to entertain this child?” she asks between breaths.

“Oh, you mean the light show in the center court?” I reply.

“Yes … exactly,” she gasps, apparently relieved that I know what she means.

“Sure,” I say, “that show's been going on since I was a little boy. It's right across the street through this portal here.”

I'm going that way, so we walk along together. As we stroll along, and Grandma is thanking me, this adorable little girl, all of age 4, as I was later informed, pipes up and says:

“My brother says there is no Santa Claus!”

Grandma says, “Yeah ... he's 7 now, too cool for Santa.”

So I say “Really?!”

That's my cue ... I utter my best “HO-HO-HO,” smile, and simply point to my face.

“What do you think?”

With that, this wonderful little princess gasps an “ooh!” and beams with sheer delight, her eyes ebony jewels, her face the very definition of natural beauty.

“Are you Santa Claus?!” she asks, eager to believe, but not sure what to think.

Grandma says, “You never know. Looks a lot like him.”

And I add, “You ever see me and the big guy in the same place at the same time?”

I tell her that sometimes Santa has to go undercover, just to keep an eye on things. That's one of the ways he knows so much. I ask her name.

“Eliza Somers,” she replies, and begins to spell it out for me.

“No need, Sugar. I got ya, Eliza. You're doin' real good, takin' care of your granny here. I'll see you in a couple of weeks, but you'll be sleepin'.”

My seas have been rough lately, so the timing could not possibly be better for the lighthouse smile this cherub shone upon me as I crossed the street, waving goodbye.

She has no idea of how grateful I am for this little encounter, no clue as to how important, how profound, how uplifting that was for me, and maybe that's the way it was supposed to be.

God bless you, Eliza, and merry Christmas to you too, Grandma.

So when the stress gets you down, remember there are people like Eliza, her grandmother and my uncle out there, randomly making this world a better place.

DAN EVANS is the editor. When he gets that speck of dust out of his eye, he can be reached at or (818) 637-3234.

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