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A Christmas Story For The Times

Dec 27, 2008 (Weekend Edition Saturday)

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Joseph and Mary got off the bus in Detroit. He had worked as a carpenter for 20 years, but lost his job. His pension was invested with Bernard Madoff, and there was no federal bailout for carpenters.

He and Mary had no place to live, and Mary was pregnant.

She told Joseph that he would be the child's father, but he wasn't the child's father. She said that spark that began their child — well, her story was just too embarrassing for Joseph to repeat. It sounded impossible and ridiculous.

Friends told him he was being taken for a fool. But Joseph loved Mary and knew that the past few months had been hard for her.

There was no room at a homeless shelter, but a man said they could unroll their blankets on the floor of his garage. The garage was cold, but it had a wireless Internet connection.

That night, Mary gave birth to a beautiful baby boy. He had a nice, loud cry. Mary laid their baby down in the back of a prototype of an electric car, swaddled in a recyclable grocery tote. A stray gray dog, still grimy from the streets and whimpering with loneliness, crept into the garage and kept watch over their baby, keeping him warm with his panting.

That night, a star appeared in the East. Three Wise People — Warren Buffet, Oprah Winfrey and David Axelrod — came to see Joseph and Mary's baby, bearing gifts of Frontera Chipotle salsa, Eli's cheesecake and asparagus, for fiber. Joseph was glad they didn't bring stock certificates.

The infant saw the gifts and smiled.

Mary saw the look of delight in her child's face and said to herself, "He's happy to be here with us."

But she saw Joseph sitting off by himself at the far end of the garage. She knew he was worried about how he was going to make a life for their child. When Joseph came back to the car, his eyes glimmered.

"I think I finally understand," he said. "It doesn't matter where a child is born, or who their father is. Every child born cries for our love and deserves our care: Every child who's hungry in Darfur, Detroit or Zimbabwe; every little girl who's been abandoned by a roadside in China; every little boy in Congo who has a gun taller than he is thrust into his arms; every little boy and girl who are threatened by an empty stomach, a cruel tyrant or an epidemic — I must love them as a father loves his child."

Mary and Joseph sat with their arms around each other and around their baby boy. The dog — they decided to adopt him on the spot — hopped up in the seat beside them and put his head gently onto Joseph's lap. The star that had found them seemed to stay for a moment, while their child breathed softly, safely, peacefully, as they looked out into a new year.

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