I like to walk the park near my home at night, even in wintery weather. Some consider it a dangerous undertaking, I know, and there have been a few tragic incidents over the past several months, but I was born in this city and I take my chances because I am old enough to accept the risks associated with my nightly constitutional. That, and I refuse to live in fear.
Along the path I walk there is a stone bridge and each night I pass over it I see the same elderly woman squatting at the mouth of the underpass below with two wicker baskets sitting on either side of her.
Being city-bred, I generally tend to my own affairs and leave other people to their business, but this evening curiosity is my master, so instead of walking across the bridge, I take the path leading to the underpass.
As I get closer to the woman, I spot shapes moving in the shadow of the overpass. Too large to be rodentia or stray cats or dogs, these figures move about on their hindquarters but are too small to be dwarves. The first insane thought that comes to mind is leprechauns…but a niggling bit of ancient knowledge that must be buried deep within human mitochondria corrects me and states that they are…elves.
The baskets beside the woman are open and one is filled with fruits and finger sandwiches and the other with wet wipes and first aid materials. Three elves meander around the food basket nibbling on apple and orange slices, while the woman gingerly wipes the dirt and dried blood away from a wound on a fourth elf’s knee with an alcohol swab.
I clear my throat as to make my presence known and say, “Hello. I see you here at this same spot every evening. I hope you’ll pardon my nosiness, but I’m curious to know what you’re doing with these elves.” I cannot believe that I am openly discussing the existence of elves as if it is commonplace.
“I’m tending to them,” the woman smiles. “Sure, they can fend for themselves, but they happen to be Christmas elves which means they live a life of service to others…”
“I do not catch your meaning.”
“These little ones spend the better part of their days making useful items for the creatures that live in this park. They help them build functional homes and escape traps and things of that nature. They’re so busy doing these helpful deeds that they rarely have time to care for themselves, so I feed them and clean them and patch them up as best I can.”
“Awfully charitable of you.”
“A life of service,” she shrugs.
“But how did they come to be here?” I ask.
“Quite by accident. You see, on Christmas Eve when the mad rush is on to deliver presents to all the deserving people of the world, Mister Claus packs his magic sleigh with elves as well as presents and they aid in the delivery process, but sometimes an elf will accidentally fall from the sleigh in mid-flight or get left behind. When that happens, they are instructed to go to the nearest forest, which in the city is a park, and wait patiently until they can be collected. And while they wait, they help whom they can because it’s in their nature.”
“But would it not be better to move them to a place where they can be of service to people? I am sure there are plenty of underprivileged families who could benefit from having a helpful elf around, would you not agree?”
“Yes, I’m sure there are,” she replies. “But elves live in service of all living things. To them, there is no difference between humans and rodents and birds and fish and insects. They serve whom they serve. Who am I, or you for that matter, to direct the course of their service?”
I scratch my head. “I understand that but what about the difference they can make in society?”
The woman giggles aloud and looks down at the elf in her lap as she applies a bandage to its knee, and says, “Who says their actions aren’t making a difference in the world?”
I want to argue the point, I want mankind to benefit from these tiny miracle workers, but then the wiser part of me, the part that often remains hidden, points out that I am being selfish and specist, and thinking myself to be smarter and nobler than whoever or whatever is in charge of the natural order of things.
I regroup myself and exhale slowly as I kneel beside the elderly woman and ask, “How may I be of service?”