(Denver Post, Dec. 25) Senator John was a political man, a driven man, some would say a hard man. At dusk on Christmas Eve, he squinted from his office window through falling snow toward the Capitol, and grumbled to his assistant about the latest Bill Ritter gimmick: low-energy holiday lights.
His clock struck five. “I suppose you’ll want all day tomorrow,” the aging conservative barked. “If you please, sir,” Joyce whimpered. “It’s only one day a year.” Back came the senatorial snort: “One day less for this office to defend faith, family, and the flag, while you fritter at home with your relatives and pastor. All right, but you’ll owe me an extra Reagan catechism on Monday.”
Hurrying past a shopping-cart woman on the corner, Andrews got in his gas-guzzler to head home. Driving south, his thoughts turned northward, not to Santa’s workshop but to the ANWR oil reserve. He ejected his wife’s “Messiah” CD, popped in the latest Cato Institute lecture, and speed-dialed Douglas Bruce.
Then it happened. Distracted by an Obama bumper sticker, the grouchy Republican braked too late for a red light and skidded into a fire hydrant, triggering both a geyser and his airbag. That was the last thing John remembered; everything went black.
A gray-haired lady was shaking him. He sniffed the musty air of Buena Vista’s old elementary school. “You’re not…?” Dorothy Roman smiled. “Yes, I am: your teacher from 1957. For a smart boy, you’re often still a dunce. Follow me.”
Stopping at several homes, she showed him classmates he’d looked down on. Peeking into a church, he saw two brothers ridiculing a less affluent family’s Christmas attire. “Ouch,” he murmured, “Jim and me.” Then to the Andrews ranch, where his mother sat by the fire in tears. “People matter most, John,” Mrs. Roman said quietly. “You’ve often written that, but do you live it?”
“Dad, are you okay?” From the darkness, the dazed rightwinger heard his policeman son shouting through the shattered windshield. But an instant later it was blazing daylight, Christmas morning, and he was 500 feet above downtown in Jeff Puckett’s “Prayer One” helicopter. “Joy to the world, the Savior is born,” crackled the pilot’s voice over the intercom.
Fellow passengers began identifying landmarks. Ron McKinney, a Salvation Army captain, gestured to Red Shield Community Center in a gang neighborhood. Kent Hutcheson pointed out school after school where Colorado UpLift staffers mentor inner-city kids. Bob Cote waved up at them from the Step Thirteen shelter and rehab facility.
Far below, a beaming teenager with a new basketball emerged from a boarded-up house. “Look, Pops, it’s one of the families our company adopted through Denver Kids Inc.,” said John’s daughter over the intercom. He tried not to think about his new landscaping at home. Rev. Tom Melton, who coordinates the weekly prayer flights, greeted them upon landing, serious for once. “Remember, Senator, we’re all one city.”
Flashers from an emergency vehicle blasted his eyeballs. The Cato lecturer was droning on about Ayn Rand. John blacked out, then seemed to waken amid the smell of sanitary chemicals and body fluids. A gaudy banner proclaimed this was Sunrise Assisted Living and it was New Year’s 2030. What was so familiar about the bent man dozing in front of the TV?
“Patty Gordon, who left us back in 2007, was always so warm and kind,” a nurse was saying. “So was her daughter Donna, John’s wife. But with old Mr. Brainy, it was always books and ideas, votes and visions. Now look at him. Too bad.”
The horrified columnist screamed and woke, himself again at last. Paramedics jumped back as he leaped from the wreckage, shouting: “Holy Scrooge, a second chance! Goodwill toward men and no excuses. I’ll try harder, God help me. Merry Christmas, everyone.”