This is the heart of the story: a young couple is on the road, far from home. They are poor, and there is no real, appropriate space for them in which to bring a child into the world. But that is exactly what happens. They bring a child into the world. A child is born.
What follows is my attempt to bring this story into focus for us, here, now, in 20-teens America.
Scripture can be found here...
That this baby was coming at all was a miracle. First, May hadn’t even known for a long time she was pregnant—it didn’t seem possible. She was thin and undernourished from a diet of one meal each day from the downtown Salvation Army and a life lived out of JoJo’s uncle’s 1999 Ford Escort. And then, she had been so sick the first half of the pregnancy, what she did eat, didn’t seem likely to do much good.
But here she was, riding shotgun with JoJo as they prayed the fumes in the tank would get them to Buffalo, where, at least, there was family, and a fold-out bed, and a tree, and maybe some cash JoJo’s mom had put away from her job cleaning houses.
And maybe a job. Two jobs, ideally, though May might be out of commission for a while, with the baby. In the town they were leaving, JoJo kept getting jobs fixing cars, and kept getting fired from them when his accent or his dark skin raised the eyebrows of the customers. Every time it was the same: He’d hear them talking to his boss, and the questions would start. “What is that guy? You know him? Is he a Mexican? You seen his papers?”
They had. But it didn’t matter. Finally the boss would hand him his last paycheck, and wish him good luck. And then they had to leave the apartment and take up residence in the car. As the days of December passed, they decided: Maybe they’d do better in Buffalo.
This was not how May had envisioned becoming a mother. She didn’t grow up in luxury, but her parents had lived in a nice little apartment until her younger brother was born, and then they took out a thirty-year mortgage and took on second jobs so that they could have a backyard and a swing set. May shook inside sometimes, when she realized how close to falling through the cracks she and JoJo were. Some might say, they’d already fallen. She loved him, and she knew he loved her, but sometimes she was afraid, because life seemed to have a mind of its own. Like this baby, whose coming was kind of a miracle. A really scary miracle.
The first contraction kicked in just as the car was coasting to a stop just past mile marker 363 on Interstate 90. The fumes were gone. The cash they had was pretty much any change they could scrounge from between the seats in the car. And now May was groaning.
“Oh babe, I…. I think this is it. Holy Cow. Oh man. I mean… oh!”
JoJo’s face got that blank cloud May sometimes saw when she knew he had his back to the wall. She’d seen it with each job he lost. And here it was. But then he surprised May. He turned to her, almost cheery, and said, “My love, it’s a beuatiful night for a walk,. I understand it’s good to walk while you’re in labor.” Turns out JoJo had watched some Youtube videos about labor and delivery in the break room at his last job.
May burst out laughing, and she picked up her backpack, zipped up her parka (actually, that was JoJo’s uncle’s too—hers didn’t fit any more), and got out of the car. It was just before 11 o’clock. PM.
May’d never walked along an interstate, daytime or nighttime. It was actually terrifying. But JoJo knew what he was doing. He was steady when the cars roared past, and he began a gentle patter of storytelling to distract May from the fact that the contractions were steadily getting closer together. Each time one stopped her—the contractions roared through her, much like the cars roared by her—May would find herself panting, the top of her pressed against JoJo’s chest, only vaguely aware of what he was saying, though she was pretty sure he was mostly reminding her to breathe. “You… should… be… a midwife!” she burst out, after a particularly fierce one. They were 2-1/2 minutes apart now.
They trudged on.
A truck slowed down. A girl of about 12 leaned out the window. “You need a ride to the rest stop? My dad says we’re getting off at the LeRoy exit, so that’s as far as we can go.” JoJo helped May into the cab, where the four of them squeezed together, the radio blaring “All I Want For Christmas Is You!”
“Car break down?” the girl’s father asked.
“Yeah,” JoJo answered. “And…she’s…” May shook her head, ever so slightly. She didn't know why, but she just didn’t want to involve these strangers in her drama. “She’s really hungry,” JoJo said. “Well, there’s an Arby’s at the rest stop. And a Tim Horton’s.” May, wide-eyed, panted through the next contraction as silently as she could. David Bowie and Bing Crosby crooned “Pa rum-pum-pum-pum,” and “Peace on earth.”
They tumbled out of the truck at 11:45, their eyes blinking from the brightness of the plaza. They made their way to the food court, where a teenage girl in a light brown shirt and visor stood behind the counter. There was one table occupied: some guys who’d just gotten off a shift at the Batavia WalMart. They were cracking jokes and whooping with laughter. The girl in the visor asked, “How can I help you?” Her supervisor, a middle-aged man, had his back to the counter. He was refilling napkin dispensers.
JoJo started to speak, “We’re just looking…” and was interrupted by May, who began to groan again, and lean, hard, against the counter. The manager turned around. “What’s wrong with her?” The WalMart guys turned around, suddenly silent.
“She’s…” JoJo began, and then, leaned to catch May as she doubled over.
The teenager looked at her manager. “I’m pretty sure she’s gonna have a baby.”
The two of them sprang into action, working together seamlessly as if it were the morning rush in the middle of the week. The girl brought JoJo and May to their employee lounge, a hospitable sounding room that was mostly bare but for another of the same small, sturdy tables the restaurant boasted, with four chairs drawn up to it. The man disappeared and returned within two minutes, with a maroon comforter in a dry-cleaning bag. Then the girl disappeared and returned with a gift-wrapped box she was in the process of tearing open. In it was a gold and green plaid flannel shirt.
May was on the comforter-covered floor in short order, panting. As her labor intensified, JoJo thanked their hosts and asked them to step out to give May some privacy. Hovering outside the door were the Tim Hortons’ employees, the guys from WalMart, and a New York State Trooper who had just stopped in for coffee and an apple turnover. (There were none until morning, unfortunately.) The State Trooper gently but firmly informed JoJo that he’d actually had some training for these situations, but while the negotiations were still ongoing, the child was born.
The child was born.
A hush fell over them. Only JoJo and the State Trooper could see what was happening, and the door slanted closed behind them. At last that cry was heard, that sharp, beautiful, unmistakable cry that means life—life! And the small crowd let out its collective breath. After a short while, in which no one had any intention of dispersing, the door opened again, and May leaned, damp and smiling, against the wall, the newborn baby in her arms, wrapped in a gold and green plaid flannel shirt. Next to her was a donut tray, with the parka on top of it, ready to be a crib.
One by one, they came in to greet the child. The Tim Horton’s girl brought coffee and bagels. The manager slipped a thick wad of $25 Tim Horton’s gift certificates into JoJo’s jacket pocket. One of the WalMart guys had just gotten a $50 tip from his grandmother, for helping her move from her house to an assisted living facility. He gave it to May, with an embarrassed, “Merry Christmas.” The State Trooper asked about the location of their car, got the keys from JoJo, and got it back within the hour, all gassed up.
The restaurant loudspeaker was playing a song May had always liked. She closed her eyes, and held the baby close. JoJo gently lowered himself down beside her, and slipped his arm behind her. They cradled the baby together. As May listened to the song, she realized she wasn't afraid any more. At least, not for now.
“Love came down at Christmas, Love all lovely, Love Divine,
Love was born at Christmas, Star and Angels gave the sign.
Love shall be our token, Love be yours and love be mine,
Love from God to all of us, Love for plea and gift and sign.”
Love. That was it. That’s why she wasn’t afraid anymore. There was so much love.
A child is born. Merry, Merry Christmas my friends. And Thanks be to God. Amen.