One of my favorite questions has always been “you believe in that kind of stuff, don’t you?”. I’ve had it asked to me in so many different contexts, so many different conversations. Yet, the answer I give without fail…

“Yes,” I respond, firmly, each time.

One quality about myself is that when I believe in someone or something, I believe with every bone in my body. I’ve been like this for as long as I can remember, even all the way back to Santa Claus. I believed in Santa Claus until I was in fourth grade. Yup, that’s right, fourth grade. I can vividly remember being in fourth grade, sitting on the steps in our elementary school library. One kid from my class, Julian, came over and ever so bluntly stated, “Santa Claus doesn’t exist”. 

Excuse me?

Excuse me??

You, sir, are most definitely getting coal in your stocking next year just for saying that. Oh, and you’re a stupid head. My eleven-year-old brain was running. I can still feel my cheeks getting hotter, visibly turning pink from working myself up in thought. I’m getting heated again just talking about it.

(Sidebar, my argument tactics really haven’t changed much since fourth grade. I will for sure still call you a stupid head and feel completely satisfied. I one hundred percent just won that argument.)

Still reeling from the debacle that had occurred on the steps earlier, I jumped into my mom’s car, ready to get the heck away from school. My mom was on the phone, talking to my best friend’s mom about how their Christmas had been and did her daughter end up liking the laptop she got her. Hold. The. Effing. Phone. I looked straight at my mom while she was still talking, “I thought Santa gave her the laptop for Christmas?”.

When I tell you my mom’s face dropped, I am not exaggerating. She was sooooo busted. Hand caught straight in the cookie jar, crumbs and chocolate lining her mouth kind of busted. She told her friend she had to go and hung up the phone. She told me it was time that I knew Santa wasn’t actually real and that he wasn’t the one putting presents under the tree. She told me it had been her and my father all those years. I sat there for a second and let the life shattering information settle in. 

Look, I led a very fortunate life when I was younger, I’ll admit. This shit was shattering. After silently staring out of the window for a few minutes, I began to come to terms with it. 

“Wait…” I started, scared to finish my sentence. “Does that mean there’s no Easter bunny… tooth fairy… nothing?”. My mom just laughed and shook her head no. Jeez Louise, someone hand me a juice box, stat, I’m about to hit the floor at this point. 

My mom did something very important after that. She reminded me that even though the person wasn’t real, it didn’t mean the thought or spirit behind it wasn’t real. I think a lot of parents forget to say that part, when in fact, it’s the most important part of the entire experience. It was never about the actual person behind Santa Claus, never about the physical present left with his signature on it. It was about spending hours with my family decorating the tree, placing every ornament in its most perfect position. It was about helping my nana bake every single type of dessert to ever exist, taking extra precaution to not mess up her classic baking perfection. It was my nana yelling “Tim!”, and pretending to chase him with a rolling pin, as my papa ran away with all of the cookies we had just made (there wasn’t a hiding spot in the pantry that he couldn’t find). The spirit behind this holiday, that’s all anyone was ever trying to convince me of. I was convinced. 

That was my first encounter believing in something I couldn’t see. Let me continue to connect the dots.

As I got older, I always enjoyed all of the small stuff, like reading my horoscope in Seventeen magazine, watching psychics on television, all that good stuff. That’s not to say I took everything literally. I can promise you my Seventeen horoscope was not accurate at all, because my seventh-grade crush and I are not happily married right now. Annoyed. But I think it’s important to note that being open and being willing to envision things on a larger scale is a part of who I am. 

This is taking a sad turn for just one second, a millisecond, I have to include it, it’s crucial, don’t hate me. Okay, just a couple of years ago my papa passed away. It was sudden and very unexpected, but we were able to turn it into something very beautiful in a very short amount of time. At his funeral, the wife of one of his closest friends came up to chat with us. She mentioned that she forgot to bring a white feather and we all kind of turned to look at her. Were we out of the loop or? She explained that it had been her husband’s custom. He would place a white feather on every casket or give one to the family that he knew. She apologized for not bringing one, but we assured her it was more than okay and told her how much we appreciated the gesture. 

I don’t remember who was the first to find one. Suddenly, they were just everywhere. We all kept finding them. First in explainable places, under our pillow, next to our bed, on a piece of clothing. Then they started appearing in stranger places, at stranger times. 

My mom was trying to decide to if moving to a new state with her boyfriend was the right choice. As the prior residents moved out and cleaned up their things, my mom and I walked through the house. She found white feathers in the corners of almost every room of the house. 

My uncle was trying to buy a car. He drove hours away from home to look at this car he had found online, got to it, absolutely loved it. He told them this was the one and he’d be back tomorrow to buy it. They drove all the way back the next day, only to find that another employee had just sold the car an hour before, not knowing that he had intended to purchase it. Him and my aunt started their drive home, when they passed this little dealership with a similar model. My aunt made him stop and look at it, which turned into him loving it and buying it on the spot. On the way home, my uncle reached into the glove box of his new car to read the manual (He is literally the only person I know on this planet who reads car manuals. He knows he has google on his phone but no, no, he will read the manual. Love you, dork!). When he opened the glove box and went to reach for the manual, he glanced down and saw a long white feather sitting on top of the manual. 

I was sitting on my floor, pouring my thoughts onto paper as my entire world collapsed around me while reading Maxie McCoy’s brilliant book. I can’t even express the amount of anxiety I had about publishing what I had written for others to see. I couldn’t even text my family to tell them what I was doing because I was so nauseated just by the thought of it. I got into bed, only to realize my roommate’s cat had knocked all of the pillows off of my bed. I reached down and picked them up, ready to place them back in their normal spots. I noticed a little white feather underneath the position the one pillow was normally situated in. I put the pillow on top and went to sleep. The next three days I worked on my writing, trying so hard to convince myself to share it. Each night before I went to sleep, I checked under the pillow to see if it was still there. I was just curious. It was there, every night. I finally made the website, posted the piece, turned off all phone notifications, and went to workout for what ended up being over two hours. When I finally looked at my phone on my way back up to my room, I saw the overwhelming amount of support I was receiving and immediately felt the weight of the fear and anxiety I had been carrying, lift off my shoulders. I got into my room, cat asleep in my bed, everything in its place except one pillow that had been knocked off my bed. I picked it up, placing it back in its spot on the bed. I realized the little white feather was no longer there. It was no longer needed. 

Let me reiterate what I have known since I was in fourth grade, what I wish I could make everyone believe in as passionately as I do. It’s not the object. It’s never the object. It’s the meaning behind the object. You can tell me I’m foolish, childish or stupid for believing that my papa placed those feathers in all of those places. I would shrug and allow you to believe that, because I know you’ve missed the point.

Santa might not have been the one to put the presents under the tree every Christmas, but his spirit was the one who brought the entire family together for that one special day, every year, without fail. My papa might not have been the one to place those feathers in our rooms, in our cars, in countless other places. However, his spirit is the one who brings the feeling of safety, of comfort, of familiarity, all in the face of the unknown.