A CHRISTMAS EVE MEMORY

THE NIGHT OF DECEMBER 24th, 1994

The troubled man huddled beneath the rickety bridge as the blizzard raged all around him. Sadly, he’d been homeless long enough for it to have taken a harsh toll on his body and mind. Shivering uncontrollably as the howling wind whipped through the gaping holes in his tattered blanket, he understood full well that if hypothermia set in, death would soon follow, and at this point, both seemed inevitable. He also knew that if he died, not a living soul on earth would care. He would be just another lost soul who vanished as if he never existed at all.   

With his mental and emotional state deteriorating, he looked around but could see little in the deep blackness. Because of the record-setting winter storm, he’d remained trapped in this spot for two full days which meant he’d gone without alcohol for the same length of time. It was the longest he’d been sober in the last six months.

Now 31-years-old, he wondered how his life had spiraled out of control. Freezing in the dark with his meager possessions scattered around him, he felt broken. A year ago, he could not have imagined being utterly alone just trying to survive on Christmas Eve, but as his despair had grown over the last 48 hours, he could feel himself giving up, and that frightened him. He knew he should fight on, but he honestly believed he had nothing left to fight for. His life had dissolved into chaos, and he’d lost all hope of turning it around.

With each breath, the extreme chill of the air seared his lungs increasing his discomfort, but with no other clothes to put on and nothing else to cover himself with, all he could do was sit as still as possible to try to conserve his body heat. Because of his height, he was doubled over with his arms wrapped around his knees. Although awkward, it was the warmest position he could manage. The man guessed it was still early, maybe around eight or nine, and that filled him with dread because he knew it could get much worse after midnight. Protecting himself as best he could, he tried to stay alert for fear that if he fell asleep, he might not wake up.

Over the next few minutes, his anxiety increased as his shaking became more severe. He was worrying that he wouldn’t be able to endure the falling temperature much longer when his attention was drawn to the distant sound of a car engine heading towards the bridge. All evening, vehicles had passed over him, crunching through the snow and ice, each one crawling along because of the treacherous conditions. But this time was different. This time there was just the sound of the engine and nothing else. It only took a heartbeat for the man to realize that the vehicle was not rolling across the bridge – it was sliding.

In an instant, all of the potential danger that had been lurking in the night exploded into reality with a thunderous grinding crash as the car slammed through the guardrail just a few feet above his head and perched precariously on the edge of the bridge. With the vehicle teetering in a surreal slow motion balancing act, the man was sickened by the horror that he knew was about to happen. But before he could move a muscle, the suspended car began to pitch forward, and then, following the unforgiving laws of physics, the Ford Mustang toppled from the bridge and plunged into the icy water below.

The man knew there wasn’t a second to waste. Disregarding his own wellbeing, he ignored the ferocious wind that blasted him as he clamored out from under the bridge and made his way down the slick embankment. The car had landed near the shore and was resting upside down at a steep incline with just one rear wheel visible. A spiderweb of large cracks streaked outward through the ice in every direction from the point of the impact. Without hesitating, the man waded into the frigid chest-high water. The piercing jolt of intense cold shocked his system almost to the point that it was more than he could stand, but with sheer determination, he forced himself to painfully take step after step until he reached the car.

Steeling himself against the even greater agony to come, he took a long deep breath and dove down on what he believed was the driver’s side of the car. Unable to see, he blindly searched for the door handle and discovered the window was broken out. He reached in and could feel a person sitting upside down trapped behind the steering wheel. Taking just a moment, he leaned into the vehicle as far as he could and felt around for anyone else, but the driver was alone. He then moved his hands up and found the tightly fastened seatbelt. For the next 30 seconds, he worked frantically until he managed to release the buckle which caused the person to drift downward. Running short of oxygen, he struggled to hold onto the individual.

Summoning all of his remaining strength, the man lifted and then pulled the crash victim through the window. Desperate for a breath of air, they broke through the surface, and it was only then that he saw the driver was a young woman. Together in their wet clothes, they were incredibly heavy, but the adrenaline coursing through his blood provided the power he needed. He gathered her up in his long arms and staggered to the shore where he gently laid her down.

Now completely exhausted, he wearily knelt next to the woman and was relieved to find that she was still breathing. Although not for certain, he thought she opened her eyes and looked directly at him, but suddenly from up above, there was noise followed by a commotion on the bridge. First, one car stopped and then another. A few seconds later, he heard voices, and then several individuals began to carefully make their way down the steep hillside.

Knowing she would not be alone, he moved away and hid behind some nearby trees where he watched as the people began to care for her. The man looked back towards his possessions, but there was no way to recover them without being seen. He was ashamed of what his life had become, and although overwhelmed by the life-threatening conditions, he felt compelled to avoid discovery at the scene of the accident. He silently slipped away into the darkness, knowing that the falling snow would soon make his footsteps disappear.

For the next half hour, he limped aimlessly through the woods trying to find some kind of shelter before it was too late. With his breathing labored and his mind becoming more confused by the minute, the man knew he couldn’t go on much longer. Ready to accept his grim fate, he was startled when he inadvertently caught a faint glimpse of car headlights somewhere in the distance. Barely strong enough to stay on his feet, he turned and began to hobble in that direction, but after only a few steps, his body refused to go any farther, and he collapsed near the shoulder of a gravel road.

As the hypothermia slowly began to shut down the circuitry in his brain, his final thought was not for himself but rather it was concern for whether or not the woman in the car would survive. With his consciousness drifting away, he believed he would never know the answer.

When the man woke up, he was lying in a hospital bed with no idea of how he got there. However, because he was homeless and had no medical insurance, he was not allowed to receive the treatment he needed. Instead, 24 hours later, still in pain and suffering the debilitating effects of his prolonged exposure to the elements, he was summarily put out on the street where he languished for three days before a police officer mercifully picked him up and took him to the city mission.

It was a place he never left.

THANKSGIVING DAY, 2019

Harris Beckett walked into the largest room at the city mission and looked out over the crowd. On this cold and blustery afternoon, the men, women, and children who’d found sanctuary in this place were being fed a complete holiday meal with all the trimmings, but more importantly, they were being treated with the dignity and respect they deserved.

As the manager of the enormous soup kitchen, it was his responsibility to see that everything ran smoothly, but holidays were particularly challenging, and today the room was packed. He recognized some of the faces, and it was a safe bet that they recognized him. Harris was always friendly and had a kind word for everyone, but it was his physical appearance that made him stand out. At 6’7” with shoulder-length hair that he kept tied back in a ponytail and a long graying beard, he was easy to remember.

Slowly, he moved around the room talking to folks, asking if there was anything the mission could do for them. As he went from table to table, he saw faces filled with desperation and faces without hope. He saw hunger and poor health. He saw young mothers with babies and old men with no earthly possessions. He saw human beings for whom Thanksgiving was just another day filled with loneliness and despair. That was why it was so important to provide them with a good meal and a brief respite from their troubles.

The guests loved the interaction with Harris because he had a natural way of making them feel like they mattered, like they weren’t invisible, or someone to be avoided. When this gentle giant spoke to them, they received empathy and compassion – not judgment.

Although always under pressure, with endless details to attend to, Harris made a point of taking extra time to lavish attention on the families with small children. Life was especially difficult for men and women who had little ones depending on them for food and safety.

As he moved among the diners, Harris looked up just as Miranda walked out of the kitchen carrying a large container of mashed potatoes. The sight of her in a pink hair covering and stained apron made him smile.

He watched as she restocked the serving line, happy as always, bubbling with good cheer. She had a gift for making work seem fun no matter how tiring it was – but she never lost sight of how important it was to help those who were vulnerable. It was, in fact, her warm kindness and boundless generosity that had first attracted Harris to her. 

He thought back to the day he saw Miranda for the first time. It was a moment he would never forget because she could not see him. Both of her eyes were swollen shut, and her face was distorted with blotches of green and purple bruises. Worst of all she had a long laceration at the hairline which had required 29 stitches. All the result of another in a long series of vicious beatings inflicted by her now-former husband. Although she was a complete stranger to him, looking at her face had brought Harris to tears. He could not understand how a person could be treated so savagely by someone who supposedly loved them.

In the seven years since Miranda arrived at the woman’s shelter located next to the mission – Harris had developed strong feelings for her and, in due course, those feelings had turned into a deep and abiding love which, to his everlasting surprise, she had returned with joyful devotion.

As far as Miranda was concerned, Harris was the sweetest, most considerate person she’d ever met. After the physical and emotional cruelty she had endured at the hands of her ex-husband, it took her a long time to be able to trust again. But Harris had been patient, gentle, and understanding, and that allowed her to regain her self-esteem and sense of self-worth.

Together, they had fed, clothed, and housed countless individuals and families. Working side by side, they had made a difference in the lives of people who had been cast aside and forgotten, and they did it with unfailing dedication and commitment because they had once been vulnerable and in need themselves.

After refilling the mashed potatoes, she handed off the empty container and walked over to Harris. “Quite a turnout this afternoon.”

“Yes, it is. I wish the need wasn’t so great, but I’m glad we’re here to help.”

She reached up and patted his shoulder. “You do an amazing job with this place.”

He made a face and corrected her. “We all do a good job.”

His willingness to always share the credit was one of the endearing qualities that Miranda most admired about him.

Harris added, “But just wait until Christmas Eve! It’ll be even better. Besides the food, we’ll have Santa with gifts for the kids, and we’re going to have a choir singing carols. It will be the best night we’ve ever had at the mission.”

Christmas Eve. There it was. Something about that day had great meaning for Harris, but he had never been willing to share what it was. Miranda had made many attempts to get him to open up, but she’d had no luck. However, since he was the one who mentioned it, she thought this might be a good time to give it another try. Who knows, he might be willing to discuss it.

She decided not to beat around the bush. “Harris, I realize I’ve asked about this before, but could you please tell me why Christmas Eve is so special to you?”

A look of discomfort immediately came over his face. “You should know by now that’s not something I want to talk about.”

“But if it’s that important to you then I want to know.”

There was a long painful pause. This year was the 25th anniversary, and Harris knew it was going to bring back a lot of memories. But as much as he loved Miranda, he couldn’t bring himself to talk about that night. Instead, he offered the simplest explanation possible. “Many years ago on Christmas Eve, when I was homeless, something dramatic happened that changed my life.”

Miranda persisted. “What was it? Please, tell me.”

Harris started to say something but then changed his mind. “It doesn’t matter. It was years ago. All that matters now is that we are together in this place doing what we love.”

“But –”

Harris stopped her. “This is all there is to know. Because of what happened that night, I learned that being homeless doesn’t mean you’re worthless or that your life has no value. That’s why when I look into the faces of the people we feed, I see men and women who are equal members of society and have the same rights as any other citizen. I see people whose lives can be changed with the proper support and the right opportunities. When I look into their faces, I see myself.”

She started to protest, but, unfortunately, his phone rang. He answered and walked away as he talked to the caller.

For the next few minutes, Miranda stayed busy keeping the long feeding lines moving. Always a hard worker, today she was extra busy because of the sheer volume of people they were serving. She was headed back to the kitchen when she met Harris who was obviously in a hurry. Speaking quickly, he said, “That phone call was about a problem we have with a supplier. I’ve got to step out, but I can be back in 30 minutes. While I’m gone, I need you to go into my office and find our inventory list. It’s somewhere on my desk. I’ll be back as fast as I can.” He leaned forward and kissed her on the forehead. “Hold down the fort!”

“Okay. Be careful.” Miranda watched him rush out the door, and she could instantly feel her anxiety rising. It always made her nervous when Harris was out of the building because that left her in charge. Looking around to make sure everything was under control, she decided now was as good a time as any to duck into his office and grab the list.

Miranda briskly walked to the cluttered office. As usual, his desk was a monumental mess. Somehow, she had managed to fall in love with the most disorganized man alive, which made it even more impressive that he was able to keep the soup kitchen running smoothly. Harris was confident that the inventory list was buried somewhere in the massive pile of papers, so she began to sort through the stacks until she saw something that caught her eye. It was the headline on a faded newspaper clipping.

A MYSTERIOUS MIRACLE

With her curiosity aroused, Miranda couldn’t resist taking a look. Even though she knew it was none of her business, she began to read.

Sunday evening, during the worst blizzard in over four decades, Shelby Kramer, a 21-year-old college student, lost control of her car and plunged off the Brookside bridge. Her vehicle landed upside down in the icy water. Miraculously, she was rescued by a man who it is assumed was homeless and riding out the storm under the bridge. His possessions were later found in the area but did not include any personal information.

Miss Kramer, who was driving alone, was seriously injured but is expected to recover. Tragically, however, police believe the good Samaritan drowned after returning to the car to look for more victims. Divers are continuing to search for the body, but the man’s identity may never be known.

At first, Miranda didn’t understand why Harris had saved the article, but then she looked at the corner of the clipping and saw the date. The report was from Monday, December 25th, 1994. The accident had occurred the evening before on Christmas Eve, 25 years ago.

Miranda’s imagination immediately began to take flight, but she caught herself before she got too carried away. Surely the man she loved could not be the person who saved the woman. That man had perished. Or had he? Suddenly, she had an idea. Miranda rushed to her locker and retrieved her phone from her purse. She went back to Harris’ office, spread out the article, and photographed it. She knew it was a complete invasion of his privacy, but she believed she had a justifiable reason for her actions.

TWO WEEKS LATER

Miranda had read the article again and again on her phone until she became convinced that it must have been Harris under the bridge that night. The accident would certainly explain the event that changed his life on Christmas Eve, however, knowing a few facts just increased her desire to know the whole truth.

Consequently, she made a couple of more attempts to get him to open up about it, but each time he politely refused. Undeterred, Miranda had already decided that if he wouldn’t talk about it, she would take matters into her own hands. She would try to contact the woman herself.

It took some serious online investigating to locate the individual she believed was the crash victim, but after chasing down many dead ends, Miranda was convinced she’d found her. Now, if possible, she wanted to speak to her – but she knew that might be hoping for too much.

Pacing back and forth in the mission’s large warehouse, Miranda was having second thoughts about the whole idea of interfering in what was one of the most important moments of Harris’ life. She loved him, and he loved her, but that did necessarily give her the right to meddle in his past. As she tried to rachet up her courage, she worried about whether or not she was doing the right thing – but she truly believed that if her plan was successful, there would be no regrets.

After considerably more pacing, she made up her mind. Fighting her nerves, she pulled out her phone and made the call. Miranda could only hope that the woman would answer a number she didn’t recognize.

Fortunately, on the second ring, a female answered. “Hello?”

Trying to keep her voice from shaking, Miranda said, “Hello. I’m trying to reach Shelby Roth.”

“Speaking.”

“Mrs. Roth, my name is Miranda Byers, and I’m calling because I believe we have a mutual acquaintance that I would like to inquire about.” After rehearsing this conversation many times, Miranda was surprised at how difficult this was.

She could hear the uncertainty in the woman’s voice. “I’m sorry. That name is not familiar to me.”

“We don’t know each other, but if you don’t mind, I would like to ask you about a specific incident. It’s very important to me, so I hope you’ll please consider answering just one question.”

There was a protracted silence and then Shelby said, “All right. I’ll listen to your question, but I’m not promising I’ll answer it.”

“Fair enough…… Okay, here goes.” Miranda did her best to compose herself and then carefully choosing her words, she asked, “Were you involved in a car accident on Christmas Eve, 1994?”

Miranda waited for a response but there was nothing. She waited and waited until she could wait no more. “Mrs. Roth, are you there?”

When the woman spoke, a lack of understanding was evident in her voice. “I’m sorry. You said your name was Miranda?”

“Yes. Miranda Byers.”

“Why did you call me? What’s this all about?”

Miranda realized how bizarre it must be to receive a call like this out of the blue. “My purpose is to find out whether or not you are the person involved in the accident, and if you are, I would like to share some important information with you – if you’re interested. But I don’t want to say anything unless I’m talking to the right person.”

“What do you know about this?”

Just as she’d rehearsed it, Miranda said, “On Christmas Eve, 1994, during a terrible winter storm, you were driving alone and crashed through the guard rail on a bridge. Your car went into the water, and you were rescued by an unidentified man who the police believe drowned.”

Now completely bewildered, Shelby asked, “How did you get your information?”

Miranda answered honestly, “Initially, from an old newspaper clipping.”

“I’m sorry, but that information would be available to anyone.”

“The article itself is not important, it’s the person who had the newspaper clipping that matters.” Miranda now felt confident she was talking to the right person. “It was you driving the car that night, wasn’t it, Mrs. Roth.”

There was another lengthy pause and then, with the first hint of emotion showing in her voice, Shelby said, “Yes, it was me. Now please, why are you calling after all these years?”

Miranda knew that Shelby was about to hear news that would shock her, so she delivered it slowly in an even tone of voice. “What I’m about to tell you may be hard to believe, but I’m sure that it’s correct…… The man who saved your life did not die. He is very much alive.” Miranda clearly heard the gasp of disbelief.

She waited patiently as Shelby processed the news and then exclaimed, “That can’t be! The police were sure that I was rescued by a man that was homeless. They found his things under the bridge – but the storm was so bad they assumed he either drowned or died from hypothermia. His body was never found.”

“He didn’t want to be found.”

Hearing that one sentence left Shelby speechless. Her entire career was based on public speaking and communicating effectively, and yet now, she was at a complete loss for words.

Miranda still believed she could convince her. “Mrs. Roth, let me ask you this. Is there any kind of physical description you can give me about the man? Anything at all?”

“Well, it’s been so many years, it’s just not easy to remember. Of course, it was pitch black and freezing, and I was groggy and in severe pain…… but the one thing I do recall was how tall he was. He must’ve been 6’ 6’’ or maybe even taller.”

Instantly, Miranda’s heart soared as she realized that the man she loved had indeed saved the life of another person – and, characteristically, had never said a word about it.

Feeling anxious, Shelby asked, “Ms. Beyers, are you sure about this? Do you really know who this person is?”

“Yes, I do. He’s the most important person in the world to me, and I have worked with him at the city mission for the last seven years. I found the newspaper clipping by accident on his office desk. I think he’d been looking at it because this is the 25th anniversary…… And by the way, he is 6’7” tall.”

“This is too incredible to be true.”

“Believe me, I feel the same way.”

With her voice trembling, Shelby asked, “Could you please tell me his name.”

“His name is Harris Beckett.”

Shelby repeated it almost reverently. “Harris Beckett…… Even though the authorities said he died, I couldn’t let go of the hope that he might have somehow survived. I just didn’t want to believe that someone had lost their life in the effort to save mine. It was too painful to consider.”

“I understand. But that shows you what kind of person he is. He did risk his life to save you, and he is still an amazing man.”

“I’m sure he is.”

Now that they had established a connection, Miranda wanted to know more. “If you don’t mind me asking, how much do you remember about the accident?”

“You know, it’s strange because somethings I remember vividly and some things are hazy at best. I had multiple injuries and was struggling to remain conscious, so my awareness faded in and out. But I certainly remember the impact and the water rushing in. That was the moment when I thought for sure I was going to die. And I remember being upside down and caught in my seat belt. It was terrifying.” She paused as she concentrated on pulling up her memories.

“The next thing I knew, someone was reaching through the broken window and pulling me out. I vaguely remember him struggling through the water carrying me to the shore. I know I’ve never been so cold in my life. Obviously, we were soaking wet, and the wind was howling which made the snow blinding.”

“My God. It’s a miracle you both survived.”

For the first time, it sounded like Shelby was choking back tears as she said, “I am just so relieved to find out that he’s all right. I’ve thought about him constantly through the years because I knew if I hadn’t lost control of the car, he would still be alive. Sometimes the guilt was unbearable.”

Miranda could only guess what it must have been like to live with the belief that your actions, no matter how innocent, had led to the death of another person.

But now the remorse that Shelby had always felt was slowly lifting from her shoulders, and it left her feeling curious. “When you found the newspaper article, did you talk to Mr. Beckett about the crash?”

“No, not specifically. I asked some general questions, but he would only say that years ago on Christmas Eve something happened which led him to the mission and changed his life. So, if you think about it, your accident also saved Harris. Both of you were given a second chance.”

There was another long pause and then Shelby said, “Thank you for calling. You’ll never know what this means to me.”

“I’m sure it must be unnerving to get a call like this from a total stranger, but I’m glad you were willing to talk with me.” The conversation had gone so well that Miranda decided to press her luck. “Now, if you will indulge me for just another minute – I have an idea……”

CHRISTMAS EVE

The large dining room was bustling with activity as the soup kitchen fed individuals and families who were happily soaking up the kindness and goodwill of those who served them. Several civic groups had come in earlier and put up decorations creating a festive atmosphere, and soon the choir and Santa would make their appearance. Everyone, regardless of their situation in life, seemed to be in the Christmas spirit and having a good time.

Miranda glanced at her watch. It was 7:00 p.m. Her anticipation had been building steadily during the last few days, but now that the time had finally arrived, she could hardly stand it. She held her breath and never took her eyes off the door, and sure enough within seconds, just as planned, the invited visitor came through the entryway in her wheelchair.

The mere sight of the woman, made Miranda want to call out to her in joy, but she resisted the temptation, and, instead, walked over to her as calmly as she could. She studied the face of a person she didn’t even know existed just a few weeks before and with genuine elation said, “Mrs. Roth, it is such a pleasure to meet you!”

Shelby smiled and said, “Miss Beyers, the pleasure is all mine.”

“I appreciate you coming here on a night when I know you want to be with your family.”

“My family not only wanted me to come – they insisted. When I told them –” She stopped as a tall man came out of the kitchen area wearing an apron. She watched him put on a fresh pair of gloves and step up to begin serving turkey and stuffing to hungry guests.

With raw excitement in her voice, Shelby asked, “Is that Mr. Beckett?”

“Yes, it is. Are you ready to meet him?”

“I desperately want to, but I’m so nervous. This is a moment I never thought would happen.”

“Harris has no idea I found you.”

Shelby couldn’t help but be worried. “How do you think he’ll react?”

“I believe there’s no doubt he’s going to be stunned – but there’s only one way to know for sure. Let me bring him over.”

With anxiety creeping into her voice, Shelby agreed. “Yes, all right.”

Miranda walked away, and Shelby took a moment to look around the room at all the people who were living on the fringes of society just like the man who had saved her. She thought how perfect it was that an individual who had willingly risked his life for a stranger had then spent years helping others.

She could feel herself tensing up as Harris followed Miranda over. When he stood in front of her, she realized she’d been right about one thing; the man was very tall.

Miranda winked at Shelby and then said to Harris, “I want to introduce you to someone. This is Mrs. Roth.”

He nodded, and in a voice filled with seasonal cheer, he said, “Merry Christmas, Mrs. Roth! It’s nice to meet you. I’m Harris Beckett.”

As her eyes edged with tears, Shelby stared intently at the man who had rescued her from certain death. “I believe we’ve met before, but it was a long time ago.”

Completely caught off guard, Harris was lost. “I’m sorry, I don’t remember. When was that?”

With her throat tightening, Shelby could hardly say the words. “It was on Christmas Eve, 1994 when you pulled me from my car and saved my life.”

Miranda watched the look of utter shock spread across the face of the man she loved. Because Harris had difficulty comprehending what he’d just heard, it took several seconds before he could stammer, “It was – it was you? It was really you in that car?”

With a catch in her voice, Shelby answered simply, “It was me.”

“Oh my God! This is unbelievable! I can’t believe it!” As his mind filled with a thousand questions, there was one, in particular, he had to ask. “How did you ever find me? How could you just suddenly appear after all these years?”

Slowly, Shelby turned to Miranda. “A woman who loves you very much reached out and contacted me. She’s responsible for bringing us together, and I’m eternally grateful that she did.”

Harris gazed at Miranda in disbelief. “You did this?! How? How did you find out about the accident?”

Knowing she owed him the answer, she reluctantly confessed. “Thanksgiving Day, I was looking for the inventory list in your office, and I accidentally came across a newspaper clipping on your desk. I photographed it so I could read it over and over again. I apologize, but it made me so proud of you when I discovered what a courageous and compassionate act you’d performed – and yet no one knew you did it. Not even the person you saved. So I took it upon myself to find her. I did a lot of digging, and, eventually, I discovered Shelby, who graciously agreed to meet you tonight.”

Harris’ face flushed from embarrassment. “I’ve always kept that newspaper article in the safe in my office, but because it’s the 25th anniversary, I had gotten it out and looked at it again – although I didn’t really need reminding.” 

Shelby agreed. “It was a night neither one of us will ever forget.”

Shaking his head in amazement, Harris said, “Mrs. Roth, you can’t imagine how often I’ve wondered about you through the years. I’ve wondered if you recovered from your injuries, if you were able to put the accident behind you, and how your life eventually turned out. Getting to meet you tonight is more than I could’ve ever hoped for. Thank you for being here.”

As a tear trickled down her cheek, Shelby said, “Please don’t thank me. I am the one who is forever in your debt. That’s why I can honestly say that not a day has gone by since the accident that I haven’t thought of you. It hurt so much to believe that you didn’t survive. And when I found you were alive, it was the most beautiful news I could have gotten. Especially at Christmas!”

Over the past few days, as Miranda eagerly waited for the two of them to meet, she had relished finally getting the opportunity to ask Harris what he remembered about the accident. “Do you recall what kind of car Shelby was driving?”

Without hesitation, Harris answered, “Even in near-total darkness, I knew it was a Ford Mustang.”

Shelby was surprised. “That’s right!”

“And I remember laying you down on the shore and realizing you were wearing a heavy sweatshirt. I could barely make out the words North Central State University.”

“Right again! I was driving home from school that night to spend Christmas Day with my parents. I had just turned 21 a few weeks earlier.”

Miranda couldn’t resist asking Harris, “Were you ever tempted to try to find Shelby?”

He sighed and said, “I admit I was, but I didn’t feel like I had the right to intrude on her life.”

Shelby could not believe the modesty of the man in front of her. “Mr. Beckett, you saved my life. It would not have been intruding.”

Feeling sheepish, he said softly, “I just didn’t think I should.”

Without a trace of drama, Shelby stated a hard fact. “My spinal cord injury paralyzed me from the waist down. There is no doubt that if you had not pulled me from the car, I would have drowned. But –” She stopped to ensure her emotions were in check before continuing. “It was because of my injury that I met my incredible husband. He was a physical therapist at the clinic where I received treatment.”

Miranda was touched that the night had turned out to be so moving. “So, please, tell us more about yourself.”

Shelby continued. “I’ve been happily married for 23 years, we have two children, and I have a career that I love.”

Miranda asked, “Do you have boys or girls?”

“One of each. My son is in his first year of college and my daughter is a junior in high school.”

Harris said, “You mentioned your career.”

A sly expression danced over Shelby’s face. “I’m pretty sure you would never guess my profession.”

Harris glanced at Miranda and shrugged. “I have no idea.”

Knowing she would get the usual reaction, Shelby said, “Believe it or not, I’m a minister. A Unitarian minister.”

Harris’s face froze. This was just too much. He could not suppress his astonishment. “Are you serious?! Are you kidding?!”

Shelby was accustomed to people being surprised by her career choice, but his response was much stronger than usual. “I’m not kidding. I really am a minister. 18 years now. And, in large part, you’re responsible for that. Because I was blessed to survive the accident, I chose to dedicate my life to helping others. Much like you did.”

Harris wanted to be sure he understood. “And you perform all of the duties of a minister?”

“Absolutely. Funerals, weddings – everything.”

Harris’s lips curled into a devilish smile that spread across his entire face. “What a remarkable night this is!”

As far as Miranda was concerned, being with the man she loved, in a place that meant so much, and having the chance to bring two people together whose lives were forever intertwined, made her believe that she could not possibly be happier.

But she was about to find out she was wrong.

Shelby wanted to convey her sincere appreciation to the woman who was responsible for creating this magical moment. “Miranda, this has always been a dream of mine. I don’t know how to thank you for making it come true. I will never forget this Christmas Eve.”

Still grinning in a conspiratorial way, Harris said, “None of us are going to forget it.”

Knowing the time had come, Harris turned away, grabbed a nearby chair, and stood on it. As the two women watched in confusion, he addressed the room in a loud booming voice. “Excuse me for just a second. Please, let me have your attention…… First, I want to thank you for spending Christmas Eve with us. It is our pleasure to serve you. For all of us, this evening has special meaning, but for me, it means even more because 25 years ago, on a night like this, my life changed forever – and now it’s about to change again.”

He stepped down from the chair, walked to Miranda, and said sweetly, “You are not the only one who had a surprise planned for tonight.” As a curious hush fell over the large hall, Miranda watched in disbelief as Harris, all 6’7″ of him, knelt on one knee, pulled a small box from his pocket, and opened it to reveal a beautiful engagement ring. Gently, he took her hand and said tenderly, “Miranda Louise – because you make me feel like the wealthiest man on earth – I want us to spend the rest of our lives together. Will you please marry me?”

Momentarily shocked into silence, Miranda burst into tears and managed to choke out, “Yes! Yes!” Harris removed the ring and carefully placed it on her finger as the entire room exploded in cheers and applause.

Harris stood up and Miranda grabbed his face and kissed him with the passion one only has for the love of their life.

He then turned to Shelby and said mischievously, “You know, you owe me a small favor…… Would you please do us the honor of performing our wedding?”

Laughing, Shelby reached up and brushed away her own tears. “It would be my honor.”

Harris looked at his fiancée. “I know this is not the most romantic place to propose, but it’s where we first met. And I chose tonight because Christmas Eve seems to be a time for new beginnings. Do you mind?”

She kissed him again and said “Of course I don’t mind! Everything about this is perfect.”

Holding her hands, Harris looked into the eyes of the woman who was going to share his life. “Miranda, I don’t have much to offer, but I want to make this one promise; I will always love you with all my heart.”

As Shelby watched the happy couple embrace, she was ecstatic over the unexpected turn of events, and she marveled at how a snowy Christmas Eve, from a quarter-century ago, was continuing to impact the present. Thrilled to be the one to unite them in marriage, her fervent hope was that Harris and Miranda would live the rest of their lives with the peace and joy they so richly deserved.

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