Our 2019 Christmas wish for a better nation and world comes from an unlikely visitor
December 6, 2019

It was getting late one evening, shortly before Thanksgiving, when the phone rang at Gazette Chicago. The caller ID showed “North American Aerospace Defense Command.” The name sounded familiar—could it be NORAD—the federal agency that watches over our skies and has been tracking Santa Claus on Christmas Eve since 1958? It seemed like a call that needed to be answered.

Gazette Chicago, may I help you?”

“Is this the newspaper in Chicago that writes a holiday wish list each December?” the caller asked. “The one that suggests what we need to do collectively to make our nation and world a better place?”

“Yes, sir, it is. Why do you ask?”

“This is Air Force Lieutenant Frost from NORAD and I have someone who wants to speak with you—no wait, wants to meet with you. We’re based in Colorado Springs. Can you make it here at 0:600 hours?”

I tried to rub the dust from my eyes—thinking to myself that I have to stop staying up so late. “What was that you asked? Can I get to Colorado by 6 a.m. tomorrow? Why? How? To meet whom?”

“It’s a matter of international importance. We’ll send a car and a military jet to get you here. We know where you live—be ready at 0:400 and please, don’t keep the driver waiting. Thank you and goodnight.” Click went the phone.

What just happened? I tried to track the number to no avail. This had to be either the best prank call ever or a dream. I went to bed listless. What if this is really true? I can’t ignore the U.S Air Force and NORAD. I did what I thought was sensible. I packed an overnight bag and caught four hours of sleep. Looking out the window at 3:45 a.m., I saw a black vehicle pull up in front. A man in a blue military uniform got out, opened the rear door, and waited for me. This was really happening.

The driver didn’t say much on the way to O’Hare, nor did the jet crew. They just shared the itinerary for my arrival. I tried to sleep but the G-forces were too great. My ears kept popping. We landed after what seemed like 30 minutes’ time. I was whisked away in another military vehicle to an Air Force base. “Welcome to NORAD,” the sign said.

“Are you one of the editors from Gazette Chicago?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Come with me. What you are about to experience is top secret.” [Don’t ever tell a journalist that, c’mon now]. “Do I have your word on this?” A slight smile came across the officer’s face—first one I had seen so far. “Here you go. Have a seat. We’ll bring in the person you will meet soon.”

“May I ask who it is?

“They didn’t brief you earlier? Cadets—what can you do? It’s the Little Drummer Boy.”

“The who?” I sat there incredulous…I came all the way here for…that is, until he walked into the room.

He looked to be about 12 years old and wore the garb that a young boy in the Middle East might have worn some 2,000 years ago.

“Hello,” he said softly. “I’m the Little Drummer Boy and I have traveled through time and space and Heaven itself to meet you. Do you know why?”

“No, I’m sorry, I don’t know why. But, if you are the Little Drummer Boy who witnessed the birth of Jesus, then I am honored, blessed, and very confused. Why do you want to meet me?”

“I need your help. I need to tell whoever would listen in the world that I am very concerned and deeply troubled. I was told that you would understand—that for each of the last several Christmases, you and your newspaper staff have felt the same way. Is that true?”

“Yes, it’s true.”

And so began our conversation and incredible journey. First stop, courtesy of NORAD, the United States-Mexico border.

“They look so much like me,” said the Little Drummer Boy, sadly. “Come, we will go and I will play my drum for them. That will lift their spirits!”

We never made it past security at the gated tents. “You’re not allowed!” a voice bellowed. Not even the Little Drummer Boy was granted permission to see the desperate faces of some of the 5,400 immigrant children from Mexico and Central America who have been separated from their parents by the United States government since July 2017.

“It’s not right,” he protested. “When I was a young shepherd boy with my family and one of our sheep was lost, we would search the whole night to reunite it with its mother. My parents would never let my brothers, my sisters, or me be separated from them. We were very poor and I often went to bed hungry at night, but I knew that as long as I had the love of my parents, I would get through anything. Some of these children haven’t been hugged by their mothers and fathers in more than a year and a half.”

“My heart breaks for these 5,400 children and I shudder to think how more grave the situation would be if the Department of Homeland Security and the president acted on their original plan to separate 26,000 children from their parents, with no plan in place to reunite them.”

The Little Drummer Boy sat along the dusty road and began to cry. “You cannot forget them!” he pleaded. “Please, don’t forget them—no one hardly ever bothers to talk about them anymore.”

Our next stop was Atlanta, Georgia. We walked through the city, catching the attention of many onlookers. “Why are we here, Little Drummer Boy?” I asked.

“Do you know why the Baby Jesus was born in my hometown of Bethlehem? Because Joseph, who was the husband of Mary, was from the lineage of David. They lived in a town called Nazareth. When people all over Judea had to register for the census during the terrible reign of King Herod, Joseph went with Mary to King David’s hometown of Bethlehem.

“We are here in Georgia because more than 2,000 years ago my descendants were provided more rights to be recognized than people in your country have today. Sure, Mary and Joseph were turned away at the inn and she gave birth to Jesus in a barn and laid him in a manger. But, at least they were given the right to be registered for the census. Look around you, what do you see? I see hard-working decent people, primarily African-Americans, descendants of slaves, who thought they had forever earned their freedom to vote in 1965 and now are being turned away in droves here and across the country through voter suppression and other illegal, discriminatory practices. Two years ago the Republican secretary of state, Brian Kemp, purged some 500,000 registered voters, primarily African-American, unfairly removing them from the voter rolls and costing the Democratic candidate, Stacy Abrams the governorship.”

The Little Drummer Boy was wise beyond his years, and as passionate as the fire that warmed his family’s hearth centuries ago. “This has to stop—this is totally unfair,” he said.

From the warm climate of Atlanta, we made our way north. Far north. As far north as one could travel on God’s earth; all the way to the North Pole.

“Little Drummer Boy, why do you shiver in the cold? C’mon, let’s go somewhere warm.”

“No, we must first pray that mankind comes to its senses regarding climate change. The fossil fuel moguls in the United States, Middle East, and Russia, and your President Donald Trump and his administration, only care about making money from oil. Meanwhile, Mother Earth is burning. The rain forests are ablaze. Sea levels are rising at a rapid pace as the glaciers melt away. Storms are worsening and people are drowning in swollen seas and rivers. Yet, your tone deaf politicians scorn young leaders like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the promise and hope of the Green New Deal. Sadly, Mother Earth is running out of time. I cannot bear seeing all that God created be turned to ashes.”

The next stop on our journey, fittingly, was the United States Capitol. It was late, but we entered its hallowed halls. We made our way to the chamber of the House of Representatives. The Little Drummer Boy looked forlorn.

“Why are you so sad, my friend?”

“Because America has long been the beacon of hope for the rest of the world and now its light is quickly dimming. The past three years of this Presidency has not only torn your nation apart and pitted citizen against citizen; it has caused a dramatic increase in hate crimes and violence; escalated prejudice against people of color; normalized malicious and irreverent behavior against women, children, and the impoverished; and has doused the hopes and dreams of people across the globe who wish to emulate the United States.

“Over the course of two World Wars, through the Civil Rights Movement, beyond the sadness of burying young and vibrant leaders such as the Kennedy brothers and Dr. Martin Luther King, the United States always found a way to clutch its history, embrace its Constitution, and adhere to its core values. I fear that your country has lost its way and your democracy teeters at a perilous brink. As goes the United States, so goes the rest of the world.

“In this very chamber, real American heroes stood up recently and took their oaths on the Holy Bible. They were courageous in their testimony about leaders putting self-aggrandizement over country and those leaders’ utter disrespect for the rule of law, and yet some of your elected officials turned a blind eye to the evidence and ridiculed them without basis. Some who testified, all career public servants, were told that they couldn’t be trusted because they weren’t born here. One brave Lt. Colonel told his father publically that bringing his family from the Soviet Union to the United States was the right thing to do and not to worry, that he was telling the truth and he would be okay. Yet, he and his family continue to receive a barrage of death threats for his service to your country.

“The political divide in your country is more than troublesome. It is affecting the very lives of your citizens. Your Republican-controlled Senate, led by Sen. Mitch McConnell, is holding up more than 200 bills passed and sent by your Congressional representatives. Important bills that would offer sensible legislation for gun control, so that youngsters in the United Sates might not be so fearful about being gunned down by semi-automatic weapons in their own schools and legislation to address much needed immigration reform so that you wouldn’t have tent cities at the border. The Farmer Workforce Modernization Act is one example of fair legislation that would benefit both U.S. farmers and migrant workers and 20 Republican congressmen are behind this bill. These bills and so many others are sitting there stockpiled while Mr. McConnell thwarts your very legislative arm of the government from functioning.

“I worry about how your country will find its way back to a middle ground. The divide is so great and the discourse so hotly contested. So many Americans react swiftly and angrily to social media without vetting the source. It’s discouraging that after all the evidence that shows Russian interference in your democracy, that people don’t learn from this. Life was easier when you didn’t have Facebook, Twitter, and other forms of social media to divide you.

“I struggle with the realization that a country that has always prided itself on being patriotic has allowed a foreign political strongman like Vladimir Putin to sow seeds of discord, and that so many don’t see what is happening before their very eyes.

“You are very perceptive—yes, I am forlorn. I was given a gift from the angels to play my drum for the Baby Jesus. The Three Wise Men—the Magi—invited me to visit the Holy Family with them. I only had my drum, and music was my gift to them. So, I played. With all my heart. I would play with all my heart for the people of the United States today, but I am afraid only half would listen. The other half has been stoked by the torches of Charlottesville, and the anti-Semitic taunts that poured from those streets still haunt your country to this day.

“Come my friend. You are getting tired and I soon need to take leave of this earth and make my way back to Heaven as Christmas is nigh. Let us take you home—to your beloved Chicago.”

We landed at O’Hare. A driver was waiting. The Little Drummer Boy had a twinkle in his eye that I hadn’t seen before. We headed for downtown Chicago. Michigan Avenue was basking in the glow of thousands of lights. We heard carolers under the Great Tree at Millennium Park. Christkindlmarket at Daley Plaza was brimming with shoppers. The Little Drummer Boy nodded approvingly at the diversity of the religious elements there. Then, we made our way to the West Side of Chicago. There we saw poverty at its worst. Homeless men and women shivering in the cold. Heroin addicts seeking loose change for their next fix. Empty lot after empty lot where homes and businesses could be. His demeanor changed rapidly.

“I am very sad to see the discrepancy between those who have and those who have not,” said the Little Drummer Boy. “You have such a beautiful city, yet your poor and middle class cry out for help; for an end to violence in their communities; for better and affordable housing; for an equitable education for their children and grandchildren; for access to health care and mental health services; to be relieved of the burden of their taxes. The rich and the powerful have too much influence and too much a share of your City’s prosperity. I wish your new Mayor, Lori Lightfoot, well as she seeks a more fair balance of resources and representation.

“We have always had the poor—certainly in my day, too. My family was among those who didn’t have much. I watched Jesus grow up, you know. I saw how he conducted his ministry. He made the blind see and the lame walk, but the cold hearted—he couldn’t do much with them. I see so many similarities in your country today where those in power, either through elected office or through corporate status, are tone-deaf to the needs of the people.

“Yet, I rejoiced when Jesus turned water into wine—I played my drum that night and again when he fed the multitudes with a mere two fish and five loaves of bread. My heart leapt for joy, as I knew He was our God and Savior.

“I was a short distance from the foot of the cross when I last played for Jesus. I thought if I could just keep playing my drum that the heart of Jesus would keep beating. Alas, he died on that cross. And, I—like so many others—gave up hope.” The Little Drummer Boy put his head in his hands.

We made one last stop—at my local church. We went in to pray.

“I know that hearts are breaking over Renew My Church,” he said. “It’s so sad to see so many churches closing. But, tell the people to keep the faith. God is with them. Jesus will lead you into a new reality. Strive to bring others back to the church—rebuild anew and become vibrant and vital disciples of Jesus.”

“What do you want me to do for you, Little Drummer Boy?” I asked.

“I want you to tell everyone that it’s going to be okay,” he said as he perked up again. “I still believe greatly in humankind. I still have hope. After Jesus died, I felt as if I would never play my drum again. But then, the miracle came. He rose again. I played my drum as loudly as I could after I saw that the stone had been rolled away.

“It’s going to be all right. Please tell your community that I am proud of them—that’s why I came to see you, you know. Go tell the people of Chicago and across the United States not to give up and not to give in. Stand up for your democracy and for one another. What you do for your community, for your country, affects the entire world. Standing up for justice and fairness always pays off in the long run. Keep up the good fight—keep your eyes on the things that are truly important such as what we discussed tonight on our journey and try not to be distracted by the shiny objects they put in front of you.”

The driver pulled the car up to my front door. “Any last words before I bid you farewell, Little Drummer Boy?”

“Yes, my friend. I want to wish all of the readers of Gazette Chicago and their families and friends a blessed and joyous Christmas. When I play my drum on Christmas night, I will hold all of you deeply within my heart. I wish all of you peace, good health, and happiness in the New Year, too.”