Down on my knees, I look at the serene face of Mother Mary cradling baby Jesus. I pray for strength, for courage, for success - - not the kind that will bring accolades crashing at my feet, but the kind that will fill people's heart with happiness and gratitude, the kind that will restore faith.
The shivering that had engulfed my body some time ago gradually stops as I end my prayers with - - 'In the name of Jesus Christ - Amen'
The purpose of my life and the reason for my existence will soon be put to test. I am experiencing my first pre-performance jitters. My first as well as my last for beyond this, there is nothing else I can look forward to in life.
I always considered myself to be Mother Mary's child and held her in my heart, praising and thanking her for what I am today. She has always guided me as my inner voice, taking me along paths that has brought me this far.
I pray with utmost sincerity to Mother Mary once again, to continue blessing me with her grace as questions orbit around my head. I am doubting myself and in doing so, I am doubting Mother Mary's grace as well.
'Had they felt the way I feel now? Had their palms perspired? Had their bodies shivered in anxiety? Had they doubted their abilities, beliefs and trust in the Almighty?' - - I seek answers for the questions that plague my mind right now that can be answered only by my antecedents who are not here anymore.
A single man - - ‘me' is what the world banks on today. A humongous crowd waits outside as I sit praying with my hands clenched, my eyes moist and perspiration beading my forehead and trickling down my neck.
The news broadcast vans idle outside. They await my entry to sensationalise my success. Or failure maybe? Which way the tide will turn is yet to be decided. It all depends on whether I pass the test and exceed my capabilities to meet the mounting demand.
No! it isn’t the pain that bothers me. I am born to bear the pain. It’s failure that bothers me. Not that I haven’t faced failures in my life, but I cannot fail this time. It will be too high a price to pay. Where then will the poor souls go?
I am not sure of myself. I look out for a sign, some message that will lift me off my feet and make me walk the few feet to face the people waiting outside the church door.
Every single event in my life seems to have been carefully planned to place me here to face the ultimate challenge of my life.
I don’t know my biological parents. I therefore consider myself the child of Mother Mary.
My parents were childless for 15 years of their wedded life. One Christmas Eve, my adoptive mother prayed once again with her hope filled heart for a child. Tears streaming down her face, she lit a candle for the Mother Mary figurine kept just outside the prayer hall. Bougainvillea shrubs in bloom adorned the base of the moderately sized figurine. As she kneeled down to pray, she heard the faint cry of a baby. Initially, she ignored it thinking it was her mind playing games. But then, she heard the cry again. She looked around to investigate the source of the sound. And there she found me wrapped in rags, mildly shivering from the cold, peering out from the rosy-pink bougainvillea shrubs in bloom.
She immediately picked me up and held me close to the warmth of her bosom. I was her prayer answered, Mother Mary's blessed gift wrapped in a bougainvillea bouquet. Warm tears trickled down her face falling on my fontanel. She named me 'Noel'. I believe that I was baptised the moment my adoptive mother's tears fell on my fontanel.
Though I was abandoned outside a church, my parents felt that it still did not make me a Christian. The church was in a small town frequented by people from all religions and castes. Anyone would’ve found it a convenient and blessed place to leave their infant. I may have been born to parents who followed some other religion. So, my parents never baptised me as a Christian.
I however came to follow the religion my adoptive parents followed. I adopted Christianity.
I was not the bright child that any parent would expect to have. I was on the contrary a very quiet and observant child, who kept mostly to himself, talking and saying very little. I wasn’t the extroverted and expressive type. I was the well-behaved and silent type who followed discipline and did not know ire.
Strangely, I was never intimidated by anything. No matter how hard anyone tried, I simply failed to evoke the anger in me. Maybe, while God was distributing emotions, he somehow failed to fill my kitty with all the varieties.
I was the kind and peace-loving child who went about advising - - “Please don't hurt others. It doesn’t matter how they behave. What matters is how you react. Your reaction portrays your character. Be kind always”
People mocked me and nick-named me as “Noel the saint!” They teased me - - “Here comes the Saint, he will win the Noble Prize for Peace, he will change the world” followed by their raucous laughter.
Strangely, I did not mind all this. I always followed mother's advice - - "It doesn't matter how people behave. Circumstances sometimes make people succumb to their own emotions. You should always rise above your circumstances and never succumb. Always be righteous even if it comes to sacrificing your own life”
My first experience with my strange inner self happened as a child. I was eight years old then. I saw an injured baby sparrow in my garden. I picked it up and felt the stinging pain shoot up my arm. The baby sparrow fell off my hands.
As a young boy, I failed to understand this reaction and did not consider it right to trouble mother.
‘What if it is the terrible disease that consumed father? Mother will be devastated to know that she will lose me as well a short time later' - - I thought. I remained silent.
Despite being bullied and teased for my nature, I managed to gain the respect of teachers and some students too.
The dull child that everyone thought I was had managed to top the state in his grade ten board exams. I was celebrated by my school. I had broken all previous records of this small-town school where many students failed to clear their exams each year. Here I was, not topping just the school or the district, but standing first among students of the whole state.
I felt strange. I was never the studious type. I spent most of my time with nature - - observing people, creatures that crawled, birds, bees, flowers, trees and everything else that the woods surrounding my house had to offer. I felt as if nature spoke to me in unique ways. I enjoyed its presence and felt at peace being one with nature.
My next experience with my inner self happened when I was pursuing an undergraduate course in micro-biology at a city college few kilometres away from my small town. A village boy out of place in a city college was ragged. He fell down a flight of stairs after being pushed by a robust senior. He lay writhing in pain after rolling down the entire fleet of stairs. I helped him to his feet and once again felt the sharp pain shoot up my arm with a strong sting that pierced my heart.
And such incidents wherein I felt the sharp pain shooting through my arms and the strong sting piercing my heart continued to occur throughout my life.
I excelled in academics completing my Doctorate from John Hopkins University with merit. However, the land I was born in, the land that fed me, the people who celebrated me and above all, my parents seemed to want me back or rather I felt the desire to go back to my roots. I went back to Velankanni - - the small Indian town that had embraced an abandoned child.
I joined a local college as professor, teaching microbiology as well as guiding Doctorate students in their research.
As a microbiologist, I had failed in my duties towards mankind along with my fellow colleagues spread across the world.
I have now been offered this opportunity to make a difference to the world, the human community.
'Who am I? Another human like all the others? Or is it what some people call me - - an alien from outer space?' - - My mind dives into the self-doubt phase once again.
The past few decades have diluted peoples' faith in God. The countries that boast 'atheism' as some star-studded achievement have multiplied. More so in the past few months as unnatural calamities and disasters tested mankind’s belief in God.
'How do I prove myself to such people?' - - I question myself.
A shiver runs through my body like lightning, shaking me to the core, adding another pound to the doubts already weighing me down, tying my feet, refusing to let them walk the few feet to the church door, to the very same atheists who eagerly await my arrival.
They are waiting outside to prove me wrong. The fact that's the root cause of my self-doubt.
'Will they be proved wrong? Yes!' - - Only if I walk out of this prayer hall and taste success.
And then there are others - - those who have blind faith in God, letting Him lead their life as per His plan, thanking Him for His grace and blessing, thanking Him for walking by their side, thanking Him in the face of adversities. ‘It could’ve been much worse Lord. Thank you for saving us' - - escaping their lips each time they pray. They await me as well with faith filled eyes and hearts brimming with hope just outside the church door.
'Can I live up to their expectations? Will their staunch faith in the Almighty be proved right? Yes!' - - Only if I walk out of this prayer hall and taste success.
No message and no sign as yet. I recall the time the sparrow fell off my hands and scuttled away. The time my college-mate fell down a flight of stairs and walked away smiling. I recall the times the ant slowly crawled, the bee buzzed and numerous such incidents of the past, where I had succeeded, in an attempt to boost my strength and confidence.
“Go! My child, Go! The world awaits you. You are now ready. It is your time of reckoning” I hear my inner voice slowly prod me.
I gradually gather some courage, get up on my feet and take faltering steps towards the door that leads outside. My adoptive mother is standing by the door. She smiles as I hug her. She blesses me with a kiss on my forehead. I walk outside.
The crowd erupts into waves of thundering roars. They kneel down with tears streaming down their eyes. They raise their hands and palms seeking grace.
I brace myself for the pain that will soon engulf me in its vicious grip. I step down to walk among the crowds while constantly praying for strength, for success.
I put my abilities to the test. I place my palm gently on the head of a kneeled down woman. The pain shoots up my arm, it stings my heart burning a microscopic hole in it. The numbers are overwhelming. I move fast.
I walk among the rows of people, placing my palms on their head, now using both my hands. The pain is now a constantly radiating pain, the sting a raging fire burning my heart to a black molten mass.
I did not count. I do not know how many people I have already touched. But I know it isn’t enough to be called success.
'Can I walk this path to its end? How long before my heart succumbs?' - - I doubt myself again burdened by the performance jitters of failing.
I see a radiant light engulf me in its warmth. My heart regains its strength. It’s whole again for me to proceed, to continue with my healing touch, to cure mankind from the pandemic that plagues it.
“Noel! my brother” - - I hear a voice resonate through the radiant light. "Noel! my son" - - My inner voice calls.
My performance jitters wither away in a moment with my strong belief in God further strengthened by the warmth of the radiant light. I continue with renewed momentum, vigour, strength, courage and faith in my abilities to perform.
I'm resurrected multiple times by the warmth of the radiant light, the black molten mass - - my heart restored and made whole again, until I heal mankind of its disease, until I fulfil the reason for my existence, until I see everyone walk away with gratitude filled hearts, their faith in God restored.
The world wakes up to joyous celebrations! It's time for Noel once again! It's Christmas!
Having fulfilled God's divine plan to save humanity, I carry the sins of mankind in my burnt heart as a saviour to join my brother and my mother in a different realm.