From somewhere, staccato-like bursts of joy pierced the nightmarish scene. I reeled to find their source. No one around except a near hysterical, rotund man, a department store Santa type even sporting a long white beard and black boots but sans the red suit.  He bowled over, holding his middle, gifting the floor with his peals of laughter, his antics in sync with my real time while the shadows around us continued in slow-motion.

Initially, I raged within to think anyone could so obtusely enjoy my pain. As I passed from participant to observer, surveying the surreal, I felt a growing pressure in my abdomen.  I fought the emotion as I scanned the absurdity surrounding us.  But, within seconds of the sight of him, my own gurgles of laughter sprayed the atmosphere like a happy geyser.   

I don’t know how long time stood still for the near Santa look-alike and me. But when the bustling resumed and I returned to the here and now, my mood had miraculously transformed from bitterness to hope. In that instant, despair fled and a cotton-cloud of peace hovered over me. I didn’t know how, but I knew we’d find suitable living arrangements. Even if a less desirable neighborhood would be our lot, the God of Love would watch over us.

Nothing life sent our way could take away my faith.  

I gathered up the rejected candy bars and cradled them back to my cart.

“Just because I love you,” I said, and kissed my child on the top of his head. Beams of delight replaced the horror in his eyes. Soon harmonious giggles filled the air as we careened toward the checkout.

But, shouldn’t I thank the large-bellied man for his gift? His amusement, whether intended or not, had brought me from the teetering edge of desperation to an appreciation of all that was still good in my life. Laughter reminded me that my children and our times together should be the stuff of my conscious stream, not the reams of disappointments that would come and go in this life.

Perhaps I might be powerless against a deserting spouse or a greedy landlord, but I did have the power of choice to believe or not believe. I could let circumstances devour my faith, or I could hold onto it as precious gold.

 I’d been taught since childhood that God loved me and had a plan for my life. But I’d never dared believed its truth. I wanted to let him know how much his laughter had changed my world.

I looked for him in the place I last saw him. An empty seat was all I could find. I wandered the aisles, but his pot-bellied frame had evaporated into another realm.

 I’d heard that God sometimes sends his angels to us at odd times, in odd places, and perhaps in the form of an obese elderly man on a supermarket bench. Had I been so graced?

I won’t know this side of heaven for sure. But whenever I drift into a woe-is-me attitude, the image of that jolly, fat elf never fails to turn my mindset back to joy.   

Linda Rondeau is the author of America II: The Reformation (Trestle Press) and The Other Side of Darkness (Pelican Ventures) which won the 2012 Selah Award for best debut novel. She is the editor of Geezer Guys and Gals blog, a multi-author blog for and by seniors, and also blogs at This Daily Grind.

Publication date: July 17, 2012