I guess can you can say that it is a tradition for us to visit the local garden center, once they announce they are fully decorated for the holidays.
It was early one Saturday, a few weeks ago, and the store had just opened its doors. Marianne and I started out walking together through the displays, but like an unattended child I tend to wander off on my own.
It was then that I saw him.
I paused for a moment looking down a long, narrow aisle of brightly lit and exquisitely decorated trees. Taking advantage of the time alone, I just stood there like a young boy in awe of it all. There was an indescribable glow that pulled me closer.
Lost in the moment, hundreds of images and memories of the past, which I thought I long forgot, swirled through my mind.
Suddenly at the far end of the aisle, a young child appeared. Like a dream sequence from a time-travel movie, I saw the younger me at one end and the 52-year-old, timeworn version at the other.
I turned toward the tree next to me, so as to not appear as if I was staring at him. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see him smiling as he gazed upon the tree.
I looked around the room for an older adult, who might have been standing nearby watching this child. There was no one.
Turning toward him, I watched as his eyes danced from one light to another. His curiosity and warm gentle smile reminded me what it was like to be a child at Christmas.
He turned toward me and our eyes locked. I felt like a deer caught in headlights. Standing on the tip of his toes, he reached for one of the ornaments near the middle of the tree. Holding it gently in his hand, he pointed toward it as he shook his head up and down in approval. Then as suddenly as he appeared, he was gone.
I was amazed to see that the ornament he seemed to like was that of a clown -- about four inches long and brightly colored. The lights reflected off the glitter covered sides.
I collect clowns and, oh yes, Santas. This one would be a perfect addition to my tree.
I walked around the corner to see who this child was with, and to find my wife. The child was nowhere to be found, but I did find Marianne standing there.
"Where were you?" she asked.
I didn't reply, for I was still looking for the young boy. There was no one else in the store.
"Bob, I found the perfect gift for you!" she said with much enthusiasm. "What? Oh, I'm sorry. I was just looking for..."
"Look. I found this beautiful ornament for your collection," she said. Yes, she did. There in her hand was the clown ornament enclosed in a plastic box. The exact same one I found on the tree.
Stunned I motioned for her to follow me. When I returned to the same tree, the ornament gone. The clown the young boy and I had held in our hands was missing.
Now, skeptics will say it was all a coincidence. Perhaps the young boy ran to get his parent, showed her the ornament and she, too, purchased it for him. Although the store isn't all that big, we could have very well missed each other.
But then again... If I had any doubts at all that angels do exist, they are gone now.
For I have seen the face of an angel firsthand.