In one sentence, a young angel taught me the meaning of Christmas presence.

The 9-year-old girl walked in accompanied by her mother and two brothers. Her name is Diana but I will call the young girl “Angel.” She appeared angelic in spirit and attitude to me. Her gentle manner and smile were sincere and welcoming to all.

It appeared as though “Angel” was seeking out people who could use some of her happiness and joy. She was like a Sunshine Ambassador who wanted to shine her happiness glow on you. As I watched her, anyone who caught her glance smiled back. She was a good Sunshine Ambassador.

We were at the Comprehensive Blood and Cancer Center Foundation’s Annual Pediatric Christmas event where multiple organizations and businesses come together to let kids be kids … even if it is just for one day. The smiles, laughter and general goodwill belied a heavy emotional journey most parents would mentally recoil from and pray never to imagine.

My adult daughters Nikki and Brenna had joined many of Santa’s elves over the past few Christmases to help with this magnificent event. We try never to miss helping. My wife Susie practically lived at CBCC for two years during her cancer journey. Until Susie passed, we were at CBCC almost seven days a week under the care of Dr. Patel and his compassionate staff.

There are many memories for my family when we walk into the CBCC lobby. Seeing children who have cancer playing, laughing and just being kids at the pediatric event is, in equal measure, emotional and joyful.

If I meet God, my first question will be, “Why the children?” I know God will have a perfect answer but my heavy heart just can’t see it now.

Santa’s elves were constantly busy helping children with games, decorating gingerbread houses, face painting, playing laser tag, serving dessert and food with Mariachis performing and holiday songs playing throughout the event. And of course the star was Santa, who greeted each child with a smile. Almost without exception, each giddy child gave Santa a huge hug with every picture taken.

I saw my young Angel walking towards Santa alone and decided I could use some of her happiness glow. I walked up to her and there was her smile. My Angel was there with her family because her 6-year-old brother has terminal cancer and is under hospice care.

As we walked toward Santa Claus together, I bent down and asked her, “What do you really want for Christmas?” Her smile left her and she looked back at her mom and two siblings. In an almost whisper and as sincere and endearing as any 9-year-old could possibly be, she said, “My brothers. All I want for Christmas is my brothers.”

Like a lightning bolt through my heart she perfectly defined Christmas presence and all that is important but, sadly, oftentimes missing when some families gather for the holidays: presence.

Here is a clue. Look around your living room or dining table on this Christmas Day. How many of your family and friends are on their cell phones? They are more than likely playing games, posting on Facebook or checking their status on other social media.

Some psychologist suggests people who are on their cell phones have minimized the importance of your company and emotionally pushed you away.

I can’t help but think of Diana and her family today. I pray my Angel gets her wish of Christmas presence for many years to come.

And I hope the same for you.

May your day be filled more with presence than presents and as cell free as possible.

Merry Christmas!

Correction: I received an email from Jeffery Cramer, Curator of Collections for the Walden Woods Project and the Thoreau Institute of Walden Woods in Lincoln, Mass., who told me I had quoted Henry David Thoreau in error in a recent column. The quote, “Most men fish all their lives without ever realizing that fish isn’t what they’re really after,” belongs to author Michael Baughman. I know I shouldn’t feel this way, but it was an honor to be corrected by the world expert on all things Thoreau.

Email contributing columnist Steve Flores at His work appears here every third Monday; the views expressed are his own.

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