You wanted to believe it, didn’t you? You wanted to believe that a sick little boy found comfort and joy in his final moments and that if just for a minute or two, Santa Claus really did exist.

And who could blame you? In a world that’s gone completely dysphoric, tales of love and compassion and of dreams fulfilled are rare things indeed.

A part-time Santa guiding a terminally ill child into a happy afterlife? Yes, please. How may I share this story so that others can also enjoy the warmth of its message?

Millions of people shared this story for that very reason. Millions wept bittersweet tears upon reading the story of Eric Schmitt-Matzen and the supremely compassionate service he provided to a dying boy.

And then some Ebenezer came along and questioned the validity of the story. Hold the phone, he or she said. Things don’t quite add up here.

Proof was demanded, but proof was not forthcoming. The newspaper that originally reported the tale suddenly backed off. There are many who refuse to disbelieve the story (can you blame them?) but there are many more who have thrown their hands up in disgust.

We should have known, brother. In this world of bitterness and vitriol, we can’t have nice things. We may never have nice things again.

Unless, you know. We refuse to be sucked down into the cold black hole of cynicism and despair. Unless we look for silver linings when the clouds roll in.

Consider: If this story proves to be completely fictional — if a dying boy was cradled and soothed by Santa only in the imagination of Eric Schmitt-Matzen — can we at least assume that he invented the story for the right reasons?

Right now, there’s no indication the man with the small round glasses and long white beard was in it for money. I’ve yet to see a GoFundMe page or the sly listing of a PayPal account, although there are surely thousands of people who are just dying to express their gratitude with dollars.

Perhaps the man was in it for the fame, but I’ve yet to see him appear with Jimmy Kimmel or the ladies of “The View.”

Maybe, just maybe, Santa’s little helper made up this sad and wonderful story because now more than ever people need some kind of sign that there are still morsels of good left in the world. At the end of a strange year and on the heels of the ugliest presidential campaign in history, perhaps Eric Kris-Kringle-Matzen just wanted us all to have something we could feel good about, if only for a minute or two.

Did he blow it? Maybe in the end. But you’ve got to admit, for a good chunk of that one afternoon, it seemed like everybody dropped what they were doing to read the viral story about a sick kid and a red-clad grandpa with a heart of gold. For part of that day, Santa’s face dominated the news ticker, taking the place of what surely would have been yet another story about a terrorist blast, protests in the streets or wickedness in high places.

Through the power of a good story, Santa’s body double managed to smooth the lines that divide us. Liberal and conservative, rich and poor, atheist and devout, all paused at about the same time to shake their heads and go “awwww” when ol’ St. Nick described his final moments with the wide-eyed boy who at last died in his arms.

On Facebook alone, the story was shared by hundreds of thousands of people who were suddenly filled with a Christmas spirit and who wanted others to be filled as well. It was a gift that seemed like it would never stop giving.

Then the questions started rolling in like the Grinch riding down that long hill into Whoville and this grand Christmas tale began to unravel.

And sure, you’d be perfectly entitled to feel a sense of bitterness and betrayal, and to come to the conclusion that most men are scoundrels at heart.

Me, I’m going to stick with the positives this time and assume that Eric Schmitt-Matzen just wanted to get us something good for Christmas and he could think of no other way. I won’t deem his elaborate tale a hoax or fake news or any of the other damnable buzzwords that blighted the whole year.

Positives, I tell you! And here’s another one: Even if Eric Schmitt-Matzen fooled us all, chances are good that somewhere in the world at this very moment, another anonymous soul is performing an incredible feat of kindness and compassion that we’ll never hear about. In fact, it’s probably happening all over the place. Human kindness abounds; it just doesn’t always make the papers.

And finally, when you get right down to it, how outraged can we get by a lie told by Santa Claus? The very character is the source of one of the most universally told lies in the world, after all. It’s a lie we consider so benign, we’ll tell it to our children for the first five or six years of their lives. 

What’s one more fib under the tree if it’s all wrapped up pretty and topped with a bow?

Mark LaFlamme is a Sun Journal staff writer. You can send soul-mending words of kindness and compassion to [email protected]


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