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“I’m going to tell you a story. It’s about a little girl and her mother. The little girl and her mother travelled the world, embracing every culture. Wherever they went, the little girl’s mother always bought the little girl a snow globe. The little girl would shake and shake the little glass orbs, enraptured with the dizzying, spinning white flakes, and her mother would whisper in her ear that those little specks were magical. That no matter what happened the little girl could count on the magic of those little snowflakes. It would protect her, it would satisfy her, it would grant her every wish. Caught up in those swirling flecks, the little girl would nod, mesmerized, believing her mother’s every word.
“Now, when this little girl turned four, her mother disappeared, going far away, hidden from public eye. The little girl cried and cried for a very long time. She went to live with her grandmother back in the States, her menagerie of snow globes in tow. For the first year without her mother, the little girl didn’t talk to anyone. She rarely looked others in the eye and hardly swallowed a bite. All she wanted was her mother, but as time passed, the little girl came to realize her mother wasn’t coming back. So she did the only thing she could: she resorted to the magic of the snow globes.
“Every night, she prayed to the little orbs, shaking them and watching the white flakes whizz past. ‘Bring my mommy home,’ she whispered, and she closed her eyes and set the snow globe back down. Every night she did this, using a different snow globe each time, hoping she’d find the right one with the right magic for her mother.
“The little girl’s grandmother worried about her granddaughter, unable to explain, unable to communicate. Every night, she knelt at the edge of her bed, folding her hands in prayer, bowing her head. ‘Give me wisdom, Lord,’ she prayed, ‘Tell me what to do.’ She rose and climbed in bed, feeling her age in her sore knees. She did this every night, praying for help, hoping she’d get her answer for the little girl.
“As the little girl grew, she stopped praying to those snow globes, afraid that they had lost their magic, and her grandmother put her in school, where the little girl learned that there was a Son of Man, who had been sent to earth to die for her sins. One day, the little girl learned that the Man worked miracles and answered prayers, so when she went home that night, she looked at her snow globes for a very long time, no longer wondering why their magic wasn’t working. She sat on the edge of her bed, trying to remember how her grandmother prayed. She knelt and bowed her head and squeezed her eyes shut and talked to the Man, asking Him to bring her mommy home. When she opened her eyes, her room looked the same and all she heard was her grandmother preparing dinner. She frowned, glancing at the Bible on her nightstand. She doubtfully rose and placed a hand on the cover. Perhaps she hadn’t prayed right.
“When she asked her grandmother at dinner about praying, her grandmother’s face lit up with a smile, and words began tumbling out of her mouth so quickly she lapsed into a fit of tears, coughing into her hand, rubbing her sore knees. The little girl’s grandmother explained to the little girl that only those who believed that the Son of Man had died for their sins could have prayers answered. The little girl nodded, thinking about what she had been told. Here was her answer: she had to believe that the Man had died for her sins. Then she could pray, and then she could have her mommy home.
“So she went to school and asked her teacher how to believe, and her teacher smiled in delight and pulled her aside, so that while all the other kids were at recess, the teacher could help the little girl. She told the little girl that the Son of Man had died in her place so that God wouldn’t have to punish her for her sins. She told the little girl that she would go to Heaven when she died; a place of gold and happiness and singing and free of pain. The little girl listened, not sure what to think. She didn’t want to burn in Hell; she had touched the hot stove. She knew that fire hurt. So the little girl decided to believe that the Son of Man had taken away all her sins. She prayed and asked Him to bring her mommy home.
“When the other kids came in from recess, the teacher made the little girl stand in front of the class and tell her story. But the other kids weren’t interested. They were already going to Heaven. One little boy told the little girl her mommy was in Hell. The little girl angrily retorted that her mommy was home now, and another little girl asked how she knew. ‘Because I asked Jesus to bring her home!’ The little girl exclaimed. The class erupted into giggles, and the teacher sent the little girl into the hallway, where the principal came along and asked the little girl what her trouble was. When the little girl told him that the class had laughed at her for praying for Jesus to bring her mommy home, the principal shook his head and told the little girl her mommy wasn’t coming home. Even if she prayed.
“Shattered, battered, the little girl cried and cried for a long time that night. Her snow globes’ magic had failed and now she learned she had wasted her time believing some son of man could help. As she thought more and more about this, the bitterer she became, rejecting any and all magic. She took her Bible and threw it out her window. She took her snow globes and smashed them on her floor. Glass littered her floor when the little girl’s grandmother flung open her door and demanded for an explanation.
“Her grandmother made her clean up her mess and sent her to bed without dinner. The next day at school, the little girl kicked a boy at recess and poured her apple juice on a girl at lunch. When her teacher asked her to step into the hallway, the little girl threw a temper tantrum, and before the end of the week, her grandmother had pulled her from her school and placed her in another. They didn’t make her pray or believe anything, but kids still taunted her about her mother. So the little girl threw more tantrums, and the grandmother and her teachers and the principal decided to take away her recess and assigned her to a teacher for after school detention.
“The little girl grew more and more, changing from a little girl into a big girl into a young woman. The young woman was in college and still angry, wondering where God was now and why her mother still wasn’t home. She frequently failed classes and exams, sleeping with any young man and drinking anything handed to her. She crashed her car too much and smoked too much and when she went home, her grandmother could barely say a word to her. The young woman would lie in her old bed, staring at her old ceiling, recalling the memories of the magical snow globes and Jesus. Then she would get angrier and stomp around the house, refusing to eat and ignoring her grandmother.
“The young woman’s grandmother grew older and older, feeling her age in more than just her knees, and she knew that she wouldn’t be around much longer. She called her lawyer and made her will, leaving everything to her only granddaughter, heartbroken that her granddaughter would squander it, worried that her granddaughter wouldn’t even care. But the grandmother gave her it all, reassuring her attorney she loved her granddaughter that much.
“Now, when this young woman turned twenty, she received a call, discovering that her grandmother was dead and that everything her grandmother had owned was now hers. Dumbfounded and confused, the young woman took a leave of absence, driving home to the empty house. Lying on her old bed, staring at her old ceiling, she cried and cried for a very long time. She slept fitfully, tossing and turning, unsure of what to think, unsure of what to do. But when she woke, she found herself detachedly packing things away: old things, junky things for yard sales; nice things, antiques for her will someday; unknown things, undiscovered memories for a later time. The young woman sold the house and used the money for college, sobering up and hanging up her party life, angry at her grandmother, her grandmother’s god, her grandmother’s daughter.
“The young woman finished college and got a job, working in a big city with lots of people and lots of opportunities. She lost herself in the bustle, making international phone calls, visiting foreign nations, encouraging sales and living her life with buried, bottled anger.
“It was one day, when she was on a business trip out of the country, hurriedly searching for a small café for some lunch. She passed a weary-looking building, a sign posted in the window reading: store closing, everything must go. Curious, she paused, debated about going inside, glanced at the long line in the bakery next door, and pushed the little store’s door open, a bell jangling behind the counter. She strolled through the aisles, killing time, admiring the little glass figurines.
“It was among the figurines—that’s when she saw it. Her breath catching in her chest, the young woman reached out and retrieved the small orb, feeling the familiar weight in her palm. It was a snow globe. She had had one just like it once. She blinked, unsure of what to feel. She hefted the weight into her other hand, feeling the smooth surface with her lacquered nails. She slowly drew in a breath, instantly wondering if this snow globe had the magic. She closed her eyes and wished for the first time in years, whispering for her mother to come home, shaking the little snow globe with all her might, fiercely hoping that there was still magic.
“Suddenly the store manager spoke. ‘That’s our last snow globe. It’s selling at half price.’ The young woman looked at the manager. ‘I’ll take it,’ she said, clutching the small ornament to her chest. She paid for the snow globe and went to the bakery next door for a little lunch. Bewildered and wondering why she had purchased the snow globe, the young woman sat down at a little table and stared at the bauble.
“As she studied the glass orb, a pair of tiny hands latched onto the edge of the table. A little girl was peering over the lip, cocking her head at the snow globe. The young woman shook it for the little girl, watching the little girl’s face as she watched the swirling snow flakes inside. The young woman pushed the snow globe toward the small child, letting those tiny hands grasp it.
“‘It’s magical, you know,’ she told the little girl. The little girl shook the globe, watching the flakes fly again. ‘You can keep it,’ she told the child. The little girl’s eyes grew round in delight.
“‘Dey doo!’ The little girl replied happily, smiling with that innocence.”
I stare at my grandmother as her body is wracked with a coughing fit, her blue, glassy eyes closing. I wait for her to resume telling the story. When she doesn’t, I prompt, “Then what, Grandma?”
She smiles weakly. “I realized the magic never left,” her voice fading into nothingness. I sit there a moment, trying to take in what I had been told, unsure of what to do or feel. I see my grandmother exhale one last time; I lean over her body and cry.