Jeremy jumped from the slow moving freight train and landed with both feet flat on the ground just on the outskirts of San Antonio, Texas. As he stood up and straightened his clothes the trains whistle seemed to echo goodbye in the cold night air. He watched the railcars head off into the darkness and kind of gave’em a little salute as if to say, “Thanks for the ride!” He pulled his tattered army jacket together and saw that he had lost the last two buttons that held it together. He groaned against the wind. He knew he still had a good long walk ahead of him. He yanked his knit cap down over his ears. It used to be a plaid cap but was now just an ugly one. But, truth to tell, he could care less what it looked like – he had learned long ago not to focus on those things that didn’t help with survival. When you lose so many valuable things, where do looks matter in the scheme of things? He did have to say that he missed his long reddish brown hair that had kept his neck warm these past winters. A buddy offered to cut his hair for him just before he left the last homeless shelter. At the time it seemed important to make that small concession toward conventionality… considering his journey.
Shivering again, Jeremy flipped the collar of his coat up and glanced toward town. His eyelids hid very, very tired green eyes. It had taken him four days to cross two states as he searched for rides in empty railcars on trains bound for Texas. There were a lot of people like him on the tracks these days. Some chatted along the way but most didn’t have much to say because they were lost somewhere between their past and their present…homeless because of a myriad of reasons. Hobos. He still found it hard to think of himself as a hobo. At 33 years old?
Lost in thought he headed to the south side of town. Hunched against the cold wind he walked down the alleys instead of the main roads so no one would even notice him. He was used to preconceived notions about the homeless and tried to make himself invisible. Shaken by a dog that snarled at him through a rod iron fence, he took a deep breath and switched to the other side of the alley. Tonight was Christmas Eve and what a journey into irony it was. He had spent 11 years trying to forget who he was and what had happened and yet was drawn back here, tonight. He reached the third block into the neighborhood and stopped. The road sign was covered with ice and he couldn’t read it – but it didn’t matter. He knew the name of the street as well as his own. Well, it was his actually. Gallagher Lane. The last time that he was on this street it had been Christmas Eve. That was the night that he ran away. That was the night that he had killed Jessie, his twin brother. Jeremy got lost in the pain as he remembered.
It had been a holiday accident. They had been 22 years old and had moved back home from Texas A&M. They had just graduated and had plans to open a business together by summer. Jeremy was an Architect and Jessie was a Civil Engineer. Their dad was a successful attorney and planned to give them their start in business. They came from a large Irish family that had immigrated in the late 1800’s. Everyone always got together on Christmas Eve – well, for as long as he could remember. And the twins as they were called – had been responsible for the fireworks display since they were teenagers. Using their creativity that year they worked unceasingly on an elaborate lighted musical Christmas carousel in honor of their four younger sisters.
It was meant to be the best of the best. But it was the worst of the worst. Jessie must not have noticed the ice that melted right under the electrical extension cord that he plugged in. Jeremy was the one that found his brother lying on the ground not breathing after all the fireworks had ended. He didn’t remember screaming but he must have. All he remembered was the look on his mom and dad’s faces as they shoved him out of the way to get to Jessie. Jeremy had sent Jess to plug it in. Something inside Jeremy snapped and he ran…
And here he was. He had been on the run all these years. No phone calls. No letters. No FaceBook or Twitter. He had never tried to reach them. He worked construction jobs that didn’t require identification or at homeless shelters across the country so that he could eat. Of course, he knew that he couldn’t outrun the pain – he just knew that he had to try. It always followed him and met up with him when he would see brothers together or the unmistakable sound of a carousel. He never forgot and he never got away from it. The guilt and sorrow literally ate at him every single day chiseling him into the very strong, reflective and quiet man that he was today.
But a couple of months ago he had stayed and worked at a new homeless shelter in Colorado. A preacher there showed interest in him. After a few weeks the preacher began to call on him to help design and build additions to the shelter because of the winter cold on the way. They became friends. Then the preacher was in the right place at the right time and Jeremy told him his story. That’s when the preacher introduced Jeremy to Jesus. It seemed like he cried for days. Eleven years was a long time to hide from the truth. Eleven years was a long time to lose yourself because you caused the loss of your brother. After the tears, hope seemed to rise in the days ahead.
Two weeks passed and early one dawn he went into the kitchen for coffee duty and the preacher was waiting for him. He said, “Jeremy, do you realize that Christmas is just five days away?” Jeremy said, “Yes, Preacher – sure. Why? Do you need me to do something before then?” The preacher said, “Actually, Jeremy, I do need you to do something …but not for me.”
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“I need you to take a trip. There is a family that has been waiting a very long time for something and Jesus has impressed upon my heart that He wants you to go and bring it to them. Will you do that for me?”
Jeremy said, “Sure, preacher, I don’t mind at all. Traveling is all I do. Where am I going?”
“Home,” the preacher said. “Jeremy, Jesus said it is time for you to go home. He has something He needs you to deliver this.” He opened his hand to reveal the pocket watch.
“Go home? Go home?” It echoed in Jeremy’s mind. It even seemed hard to say the word. Choked up, he couldn’t say anything but look at the preacher in shock. After a few minutes of silence Jeremy turned and began making the coffee. All the men would be up soon. Jeremy heard the preacher pull out a chair and sit down. He fixed them both a cup of coffee and he sat down too. The preacher had laid the pocket watch in the middle of the table. It was quiet in the room.
Before long the men began coming in for their coffee so they could get their chores done. No one stayed at the shelter without giving back. That was the rule. One of older guys said, “Hey, an old pocket watch! Whose is it?” After a brief pause, Jeremy picked it up and said, “It’s a gift that I am delivering to someone. I leave in the morning.” All the guys started telling him not to leave. The preacher smiled.
It was a simple goodbye when he brought Jeremy to the train tracks the next morning. The preacher wanted to pay his way home on a bus but Jeremy insisted on going back the same humble way he ran away from home. He needed time to think… and pray. He pulled his train hopping clothes out and turned to face his past.
It seemed a long walk down Gallagher Lane but Jeremy knew that the man he was now was much stronger than the boy he was when he ran away. Time and Jesus had made this journey possible. He didn’t know what he would face when that door opened, but he knew that he didn’t face it alone. He cupped his hand around the pocket watch in his pocket and stopped. He turned and faced the home that he ran from 11 years ago and started up the walkway. He wondered if they would receive the man he was now in place of the young man that had left.
The house was all lit up for Christmas and it hadn’t changed that much. There were a lot of vehicles in the driveway that he knew had to belong to all the voices he heard laughing on the inside. His heart pounded as hard as the watch ticked against his palm. It was time. He knocked on the door.
Several people hollered “Come in!” and “Merry Christmas!” simultaneously but he froze and couldn’t open the door. He swallowed hard and the door knob turned and began to open. A little red headed girl with green eyes about five years old opened the door and said with her hand on her hip, “Come on in…who are you? I am Holly and I am the hostess tonight.”
Jeremy wanted to laugh and cry at the same time. She looked just like him and his brother Jessie when they were little! Oh my, he thought! No telling how many times his four sisters had made him an uncle! This must be his nieces and nephews running all over. Jeremy said, “Is your grandmother….” and the door opened and his mother stood there. She looked older and wiser…and for a moment, speechless. She started to say something then she stopped…tried to talk and then just screamed and grabbed him.
It took about five minutes for the commotion to reach everyone in the house. Jeremy and his mom just cried and held each other as the crowd gathered. No one else even knew who he was. Finally, his mother stepped back to look at him and said, “Jeremy…I never stopped looking for you.” At her words, the sisters finally realized who he was and they started crying and hugging too. Then all the kids got scared and began to cry. He heard his dad’s voice before he saw him. His dad rounded the corner of the den and froze in his tracks. He saw the smile he knew in the face he didn’t and grabbed me.
You never know what going home will be like. You never know if your fears will be your future. But I learned with Jesus that night that going home with Jesus is a miracle like no other. As my Mom and Dad hung onto me my Dad suddenly bellowed, “Jessie! Get in here!” I thought my Dad had gone crazy but suddenly I could hear something creaking and looked up to see a Jessie I didn’t know round the corner. He was fussing about always being left for last when he rounded the corner in a wheelchair. Gone was the young boy man….and a fine looking man was in his place. Time stood absolutely still as Jessie and I looked at each other. Did I tell you that we were identical twins? Everyone just watched us as I stumbled toward him as he worked to stand up to reach me. There wasn’t a dry eye left anywhere.
Finally, Jessie sank back down into the wheelchair and I sank on my knees before him. We were both trying to explain. And then we laughed. What a glorious feeling it was to laugh with my brother and my family again. I don’t know how this glorious gift of tonight was mine. Then I remembered Jesus and the pocket watch. I said, “Wait Jessie!” and he looked up as I held out the pocket watch to him. He held it in his hand and I said, “I am here because Jesus sent me to bring it to you. He said that it was time for me to go home. This gift is yours.” Jessie smiled the biggest smile that I had ever seen and said, “He always told me that He would bring you home.”
And everyone began to talk at once.
A few months later, spring blossomed in the Colorado mountain side. It was a beautiful Saturday morning and a preacher was outside the homeless shelter drinking coffee on the front porch. He enjoyed the peaceful morning. Then he noticed a shiny black Chevy duly towing a construction trailer round the corner of the cliff road and pull down the driveway. It turned and parked across the front yard. Preacher stood up to greet them and saw a Texas license plate. About that time the truck doors opened and two red headed men got out and turned to face him. It was Jeremy! Two Jeremy’s! The preacher jumped straight off the porch and shouted, “Hallelujah Jesus!”
And everyone began to talk at once.
Merry Christmas from Patti Corbello Archer
May the glory of Jesus light your holidays.