It’s funny the way we remember things; not the details, but the feelings. I didn’t remember the details, but I remembered that The Littlest Angel, by Charles Tazewell made me very sad.
I didn’t remember it being an overtly religious story (in spite of the title and imagery), but I do remember feeling painfully sorry for the nameless little boy who had been swept into the immensity of heaven, only to find himself alone. For whatever reason I presumed he had been ill and then died and I remember wondering about his parents and how miserable they must be after the tragic loss of their child.
There was something the little angel missed from his brief life on earth. Not his family, but rather his collected treasures; wonderful bits of bright and shiny and new all kept in a little box under his bed. He was allowed to go back to earth and get them – I don’t remember why. It didn’t matter. His life had been so brief that the things he held dear, lovely little memories all his own, could all be contained in a small box. It still brings tears to my eyes.
This is a summary of the story — the part I remembered:
The Littlest Angel is a story of the youngest angel in heaven—a little boy who doesn’t know how to act angelic. In fact, he acts just like the little boy he was on earth. But in Tazewell’s perfectly ordered heaven, the littlest angel struggles to find his place. His heart yearns for earth, where his boyish treasures lie. The littlest angel is messy, clumsy, always late, and he sings terribly off key. The other perfect angels in heaven don’t quite know what to do with him.Finally the littlest angel is sent to be “disciplined” by the Understanding Angel. The Littlest Angel sits on the lap of the Understanding Angel, and unburdens his troubled little heart, revealing just how homesick he is for earth. The Understanding Angel agrees to retrieve the boy’s box of earthly treasures, which contains things that only a little boy could love.
This is the part I had forgotten and now find so appalling:
When the birth of a Christ child is announced, all the angels excitedly gather to announce their gifts to the newborn king. The littlest angel only has his box of treasures, kept under his bed. It is all he ever had, and is the perfect gift of innocence. In a moment reminiscent of the story of the widow’s mite from the New Testament, the Littlest Angel decides to give his box of treasures to the Christ child. But almost as quickly, he regrets his decision. In the dramatic conclusion, the hand of God rests on the Little Angel’s gift, and declares it the best of all.
For Christians The Littlest Angel and The Little Drummer Boy are touching tributes to their glorious savior: no matter how small or insignificant your gift, you may place it, without fear of derision, at the feet of Christ. Even if your gift is pathetic, Jesus sees into your heart and really appreciates the thought. The savior of mankind is nothing if not polite.
So why do I despise this sweet Christmas story? Why do I believe it is an emotionally manipulative and pernicious tool of indoctrination? Because of it’s implicit messages:
The death of a child is not sad or tragic because he’s in heaven with the angels.
The small, insignificant joys that make up a life are worthless.
Conformity ensures happiness.
Everything you hold dear should be given over to God as an act of fealty.
It’s never too early to start molding a child’s mind to ensuring that he knows from the very beginning that he is nothing without God. So here’s the story in it’s entirety. Go ahead and sue me.
Once upon a time — oh many, many years ago as time is calculated by men — but which was only Yesterday in the Celestial Calendar of Heaven — there was, in Paradise, a most miserable, thoroughly unhappy, and utterly dejected cherub who was known throughout Heaven as The Littlest Angel.”He was exactly four years, six months, five days, seven hours, and forty-two minutes of age when he presented himself to the venerable Gate-Keeper and waited for admittance to the Glorious Kingdom of God.
The Singer, who was known as the Understanding Angel, looked down at the small culprit, and the Littlest Angel instantly tried to make himself invisible by the ingenious process of withdrawing his head into the collar of his robe, very much like a snapping turtle.
At that, the Singer laughed, a jolly, heartwarming sound, and said, “Oh! So you’re the one who’s been making Heaven so unheavenly! Come here, cherub, and tell me all about it!” The Littlest Angel ventured a furtive look from beneath his robe.
First one eye. And then the other eye. Suddenly, almost before he knew it, he was perched on the lap of the Understanding Angel, and was explaining how very difficult it was for a boy who suddenly finds himself transformed into an angel. Yes, and no matter what the Archangels said, he’d only swung once. Well, twice. Oh, all right, then, he’d swung three times on the Golden Gates. But that was just for something to do!
That was the whole trouble. There wasn’t anything for a small angel to do. And he was very homesick. Oh, not that Paradise wasn’t beautiful! But the Earth was beautiful too! Wasn’t it created by God, Himself? Why, there were trees to climb, and brooks to fish, and caves to play at pirate chief, the swimming hole, and sun, and rain, and dark, and dawn, and thick brown dust, so soft and warm beneath your feet!
The Understanding Angel smiled, and in his eyes was a long forgotten memory of another small boy long ago. Then he asked the Littlest Angel what would make him most happy in Paradise. The cherub thought for a moment, and whispered in his ear. “There’s a box. I left it under my bed back home. If only I could have that?”
The Understanding Angel nodded his head. “You shall have it,” he promised. And fleet-winged
Heavenly messenger was instantly dispatched to bring the box to Paradise.
The Littlest Angel trembled as the box was opened, and there, before the Eyes of God and all His
Heavenly Host, was what he offered to the Christ Child.
And what was his gift to the Blessed Infant? Well, there was a butterfly with golden wings, captured one bright summer day… and a sky blue egg from a bird’s nest in the olive tree that stood to shade his mother’s kitchen door…and two white stones, found on a muddy river bank, where he and his friends had played ..and, at the bottom of the box, a limp, tooth-marked leather strap, once worn as a collar by his mongrel dog, who had died as he had lived, in absolute love and infinite devotion.
The Littlest Angel wept hot, bitter tears, for now he knew that instead of honoring the Son of
God, he had been most blasphemous.
Why had he ever thought the box was so wonderful?