It was Christmas Eve and the Texas sun was dropping low in the sky. Rollie the armadillo was headed back to his burrow after long day of digging for grubs. He was tired and almost home when suddenly a man appeared, blocking the entrance to his underground hideaway. “Oh my”, thought Rollie, “where did he come from?” Rollie was frightened. People had never been kind to him. He tucked his head into his leathery shell, closed his eyes and tried to make himself as small as possible. He stayed that way quietly for several minutes hoping the man would just go away.
“Aw come on Rollie. Come on out. I ain’t gonna hurt yer.”
“I’m not coming out”, thought Rollie. “I’ve been tricked before.”
“Hey Rollie. Rollie. This here ain’t no trick. Come on out now.”
“Wait – he’s knows my name! And how did he know what I was just thinking?”
“I know lots o’ things about yer Rollie and yep, I know what yer thinking too.”
Very slowly Rollie opened his eyes and poked his head out a little. He was ready to pull it back in quick if this fellow made any sudden moves. The man was sitting on a rock just outside of Rollie’s burrow. It was hard to tell how old he was. His hair was kind of long and greasy and he had a few days growth of beard. His clothes were worn and stained. He had a hole in one of his sneakers just where his big toe was. There was dirt under his nails and he gave off a sour smell. Rollie had seen men like this before. Lots of times they were hungry. He’d known of a few armadillos who had ended up in one of their cooking pots.
Rollie grunted. “I don’t know. I think I’ll stay put. I don’t feel like being dinner tonight.”
“I already told yer I ain’t gonna hurt yer. Besides, I had me a good meal today and ain’t the least bit hungry.”
“There you go again. How do you know what I’m saying? I’ve never known a human to understand a single thing I’ve ever said.”
“Well Rollie, people are mighty peculiar. Most of ’em have pretty good ears and don’t have a clue how to use ’em. Lots o’ times, they’re too busy talking to hear a dang thing. And when they do hear, mostly it’s just what they want to hear. If they would jest be still a bit and pay attention, they’d hear all sorts amazing things. They could hear the trees and the earth and all the critters and maybe even each other now and then.”
“OK, but how do you know my name? How do you know what I’m thinking?
“Well, let’s back up here a minute. I ain’t properly introduced myself yet. My name’s Hap. That’s short for Happy. It’s not my real name but most folks have a hard time pronouncin’ my real name, so Hap’s a good a name as any I reckon. I spend a lot o’ time in the outdoors. I get to know the names o’ all sorts of creation. Everything has a name: I jest pay attention. And what yer thinkin’ is easy, it’s a plain as the nose on yer face. Yer ain’t any good at hidin’ your thoughts, Rollie.”
Rollie grunted again. He poked his head out a little farther and took another look at Hap. He’s seemed alright but…. Rollie had another burrow not far away. He could run pretty fast. If he took off without warning, he could get to it before Hap caught on. He took a deep breath and got ready. Hap sighed and shook his head.
“Alright, alright” said Rollie. ” I know you can read my thoughts and won’t hurt me. Well then, what do you want?”
“Well Rollie, I been watching yer. Now, not in a creepy way but because I been worried about yer. I see how people treat yer. They throw rocks and thangs at yer. They call yer ugly and a pest. Say yer a nuisance. They chase yer. I know that makes yer feel bad.”
“They’re right you know. I am a pest. I dig up their gardens but it’s only because I’m hungry. I don’t mean any harm. I wish I could find another way to get the bugs but they go underground. I have to dig.”
“Ahh Rollie. What they don’t see is all the good you do. You may make a mighty mess but yer gettin’ rid o’ lots o’ other pests. The kind that eats up their dang gardens. Without yer keepin’ down the local bug population, they’d have a lot less garden to fret about.”
“That may be true, Hap. But it doesn’t change the fact that they hate me. Or that I am ugly.”
“Yer ain’t ugly Rollie. The Good Lord didn’t make nothin’ ugly. It’s people make thangs ugly. All creation’s beautiful. Yer jest gotta look at it right. Lots o’ folks with pretty good eyesight are blind as bats when it comes to some thangs. They see what they always been told to see, not what’s really there. They don’t know how to see with their hearts. I bet I know what yer see when you look at me Rollie. Yer see a bum, a tramp, a good fer nothin’, useless burden on society. One that ain’t had a decent bath in a dog’s age. I’m right, ain’t I.”
Rollie hung his head. If armadillos could blush, he’d be red from the tip of his nose to the end of his tail. “Sorry Hap. I have no right to think that way. I don’t even know you that well.”
“Rollie, look at me. I want yer to forget everything yer ever heard about someone like me. I want yer to really look. I want yer to see all the thangs people miss when they jest look with their eyes. I want yer to see me with yer heart.”
“I don’t know how to do that Hap, how to see with my heart.”
“Jest give it a try Rollie. I’ll help yer.”
Rollie came all the way out of his shell. He looked at Hap. “He has kind eyes” he thought. “They seem to be filled with laughter. And he has a gentle way about him; a lightness.”
Rollie continued to look at Hap’s face. As he did, it seemed to change. There appeared to be another face beneath the creased, dirty one. A face that shone with a glowing light. That face grew brighter and brighter. Rollie couldn’t look away. He felt he was falling into the beauty of that face. Getting closer and closer. His heart started to beat very fast and he couldn’t catch his breath. Suddenly, he couldn’t stand it anymore. He let out a strangled squeak and pulled his head back in his shell. He stayed there with his eyes squeezed shut and waited for his heart to slow down and his breath to come back. Then he slowly poked his head out and opened his eyes. There was Hap. Sitting on the rock, looking the same as he had before except for the crooked smile that spread across his now normal face.
“WHAT ARE YOU!” demanded Rollie.
“Well now I been called lots o’ thangs. Depends on where we are and who’s askin’. Since this here is Texas, I reckon that makes me an angel.”
” An angel. An angel. What’s an angel doing talking to an armadillo?”
“This here is Christmas Eve and tomorrow is Christmas Day. Where I come from, this is a time when all the love and joy there is shines on the whole universe. And yer don’t have to believe in the Christmas Story to experience it; yer jest have to believe in the Christmas Spirit. Now around here, y’all like to give each other gifts to celebrate. Well we do too. ‘Cept we like to give ’em to all the Almighty’s creation. So I’m fixin’ to give my gift to you.”
“You want to give me a gift? But I’m just an ugly nuisance that nobody cares about. Why would you want to give me anything?”
“Now see, yer ain’t been payin’ attention. Yer ain’t ugly and yer ain’t a nuisance and I care about yer, dang it! But yer ain’t never gonna believe what I tells yer because yer don’t believe it yerself. And if yer don’t believe it, how yer ever gonna make them blind, ignerant fools believe it? Shoot Rollie, yer part of a beautiful thang. All this, everythang yer see around yer, everythang in the whole earth, everythang in the whole universe is part of an amazing design. Yer jest can’t see it ’cause yer lookin’ too small and not with yer heart.”
“But Hap I don’t -”
“Ah, quit yer yammerin’ an jest be still a minute. I want yer to see thangs the way I sees ’em. Maybe than yer’ll understand. Now jest stay put. Take a deep breath and let it out slow like. That’s it. Now do it again.”
Rollie followed Hap’s instructions and continued to breath quietly. He began to feel different, more relaxed, like he was floating. He looked down at the long claws on his front toes. He blinked. They looked like they were glowing. So did his toes. So did his whole body. He looked up at Hap. All around him were shimmering bands of color. And sparkles, like light on water. He was about to say something when he felt himself being lifted into the air. For a second he panicked. Then he heard a voice say “Be not afraid”. A sense of calm and peace flooded his body. He looked down. He was about ten feet in the air but he could see himself on the ground below him. His leathery shell and long, skinny tail had the same colors and sparkles that Hap had. “That’s me?”, Rollie thought. “But I’m so beautiful. I shine like diamonds!”
He felt himself continue to rise. Everything below him, the trees, the rocks, the field, the big house at the edge of the field, all of it pulsed with light and color. He saw colors he’d never seen before and couldn’t describe. One moment it would all be sharper and clearer than he’d ever seen and the next moment it would all blur and run together like a watercolor. And now he noticed the smells. Rollie always had a good nose, he could smell his dinner while it was still underground, but he had never smelled so many wonderful, delicious scents all at once. And the sounds. He heard all the birds singing, the the breeze in the trees, and the water rushing in the nearby creek. They all blended together and then apart again. He heard voices that sounded like a mighty choir. It was all music but unlike any other music he had ever heard. And now the sound became color and the color became sound. He kept going up higher until he could see the whole countryside. Then the whole state. Higher and higher until Rollie could see the whole world. Everywhere, the same light and color and sound and scent. All Rollie could say was “It’s so beautiful. It’s so beautiful.” And Rollie understood that he was part of all of it. And all of it was part of him. He felt his little heart swell and fill with love. “Thank you”, he whispered. “Thank you.”
Rollie woke up snug and comfortable in his burrow. His first thought was “Oh no! It’s gone!” and he felt tears come to his eyes. Then he realized that there was a faint glow in the burrow and that the glow was coming from him. He scrambled outside. The sun was in the east again; it was the next day, Christmas Day. He slowly turned his head and looked around him. It all looked brighter, the colors richer. He lifted his nose and sniffed the air. Sweet, like fresh cut hay. The birds were chirping and the insects zooming and it all sounded heavenly. Nothing had changed and yet it was all different. “Was it all a dream”, he thought? He waddled over to the rock near his burrow, and sure enough, there were footprints in the dirt from old, worn sneakers. “It was real. I knew it had to be.”
Rollie wanted so badly to tell Hap about all he had seen and heard and felt. He looked toward the road at the edge of the field. “If Hap’s headed anywhere,” he thought, “that’s where he’d go.” He saw a figure standing there looking back towards him. “Hap”, he yelled, “Hap.” and began to run but stopped short when a dusty pick-up truck pulled up alongside Hap. Hap leaned in the open passenger window and said something to the driver. The driver got out and came around to talk with him. He was a young man in jeans, a plaid shirt and an old baseball cap. They spoke briefly and the Rollie saw Hap point in his direction. The man and Hap shook hands and then Hap headed down the road. The man took a wire cage and backpack out of the the truck and headed across the field. He was coming directly towards Rollie. When he got about twelve feet from him he stopped. “Well”, he said, “the old man was right. You are a handsome fella.” Rollie should have been frightened but the man had the same kind eyes as Hap. So when he put the wire cage on the ground and placed a dish of fat grubs inside, Rolle went right over and let the man close the door behind him.
As the man carried him to his truck, he talked to Rollie. “So then, what’s your name, huh?” Rollie looked up at him but just kept eating. ‘Well, we’re going to be spending lots of time together so I guess you’ll tell me eventually. My name’s Jesse. I’ve been looking for such a beautiful fella like you for some time.” When they reached the truck, Jesse placed the cage with Rollie in the front and then got in the drivers seat next to him. As the drove down the road, Jesse kept talking to Rollie. “You know fella, you are going to have a very important job. You are going to help me teach people about armadillos and what wonderful creatures you are. We’ll be going to schools and fairs and all sorts of outings and we’ll tell everyone about all the good things you do and how important you are to the earth. I’ll take good care of you Buddy. You’re the best Christmas gift I’ve ever gotten.”
Rollie stopped eating and looked up at Jesse. “Thanks Hap,” he thought. And then he smiled.
Isn’t he beautiful?