She was walking with her parents out of the house. As the oldest of many children it was a rare thing to be alone with just one of her parents, but to be alone with both, was truly remarkable. They were different too, she noticed. They seemed entirely focused on her, not lost in their own thoughts and worries. This was about her. She wasn't concerned, just taken aback by the unusualness of the situation. It was a normal Sunday afternoon in late autumn and a friend of her parents had come over after church. The friend stayed with the younger children and the three of them, mother, father and oldest child, slipped out of the house.
At just eight years old, she was an unusually perceptive, smart girl, innocent, well-behaved, responsible, quiet and sensitive with an occasional outburst of spunk. She felt a sense of warmth from her parents that day, as she waited patiently to understand what this outing was about. They walked away from the house and down another road and they stopped at the edge of the woods. The woods were the playground of the many neighborhood children. They had crusaded into the woods to the big rock by the creek. In the summers they would swing on the tire swing and splash in the water. They would hunt salamanders and crayfish. They would pretend they were explorers and walk deeper and deeper into the woods until they came out by the back road well behind their neighborhood. They lived in imaginary worlds and they invented games and names and play for hours and hours. When you walked into the woods, it was like walking into a magical time and place. But on the edge of woods, near the tallest trees that marked the entrance, they stopped.
She looked up at her parents and they looked down at her. Her mom started, "Christmas is coming up." she said in a serious tone. Christmas, she loved Christmas like any kid. Last Christmas she remembered being so excited on Christmas Eve she could barely contain herself. She had smiled non-stop and clenched and unclenched all her muscles in extreme excitement. She remembered thinking she had never been so excited in her entire life.
Her mother started again, saying gently, "We wanted to tell you that …" she paused, "there is no Santa Claus." She looked at both her parents very briefly and then down at her feet. Her cold hands clenched deep in the pockets of her light pink winter coat. A weight three times heavier than herself descended upon her, first, her head, clouding her thoughts, then down her throat, clamping her voice, into her chest, squeezing her heart, and then stopping, with a heavy pain, at her stomach. She was unknowingly holding her breath, and when she softly let it go, it was more than just her breath that left her. She was shocked, surprised, but she knew it was true. She had never allowed herself even a moment to consider the taunts and snide comments of the other children about the existence of Santa Claus. She had been a true believer to her very core, with every particle in her body defiant to the idea that the fairy tale heroes such as Santa Claus, were not real. Even as she knew it was so amazing, so magical, that it was teetering on the edge of unbelievable, she had believed.
Only a few moments had passed when she looked up at her parents again and said, "What about the toothfairy?"
"No." her mother said gently, sorrowfully. The girl had expected this answer, yet still had a shred or two of hope.
"And the Easter Bunny?"
"No." her mother said again.
She looked down at her feet again. That was all of them, all of them she had believed in and all of them were not real. An indescribable sense of sorrow and loss filled her.
She could feel them, her parents, not just their gaze of concern, but their love, too. She sensed that this was not easy for them and that they knew it was not easy for her. She sensed that they knew this was not trivial. And because she could sense this, she knew this was real, this is how it really is. There was no such thing as magic and wildly unbelievable things that filled you with hope that life really was more amazing than we could ever imagine. Life was not what you can imagine, Life was just reality. This realization rested upon her small, eight year-old body like a heavy blanket. Her shoulder sagged a bit from its weight.
"Okay." she said sorrowfully, bravely, but sounding defeated. She looked up her parents again. They each hugged her warmly and then turned to head back toward the house. They started, one step ahead of her as she paused, looking around her for the first time since hearing the truth. It was a rather cold, drab day. The sky was gray, the grass had faded in color and the leaves were all gone from the trees. She looked into the woods and frowned slightly. But as she turned around to leave, something caught her eye. There on the ground, near the tallest tree, was a beautiful, blue feather. She bent down to look at it and found it so magnificent, that she briefly felt a tiny amount of awe. Then she picked it up and put it in the deep pocket of her light pink winter coat. She took four hurried steps and caught up with her parents, and began to pepper them with the logistical questions about how they pulled off Santa Claus, each answer, one by one, undoing her childhood imagination.