Danny's Pokemon Christmas

By Rich Christiansen

No one was in the Burger King except this excited little boy and an old lady.

I was in a foul mood when we arrived.

The traffic was terrible, and driving in the falling snow was even more terrible. It took us about forty minutes to drive from our home, on an evening that the weather dictated that we should have stayed put.

At the time, I was feeling picked on. I had started a new job that required me to commute in road construction and icy roads for over an hour each way. I wasn’t even sure that I liked this new job.

I had been traveling a lot and I had promised my sons that I would take them to Burger King to buy a Pokémon meal and trading cards when I returned home. This night was the only free evening that I could follow up on that promise so even though the storm was brewing, I knew that I had to take my precious boys and fulfill my promise.

We loved Pokémon; it was one of the things that we did together. Pikachu, Blastoise, Charizard, Articuno… they were all characters that bridged the gap between me; a tired, young father, and my energetic sons. When I would travel, I would try to find them cards that they could not find at home. It gave us both something to look forward to my returning from a trip away from my family.

Burger King had a limited edition Pokémon toy, along with a Pokeball, in their kid’s meals. The boys had been anticipating this outing from the minute they heard about these new collector toys. We stomped through the door with cold feet and eager eyes. Each of my sons told the cashier what kind of a meal they would like. As soon as we ordered our meals and the boys got their toys, we noticed a skinny, straggly little boy that had to be around 8 years old. He too was eagerly watching my boys to see what kind of toys were in their meals. He had unkempt hair and his toes stuck out a large hole at the end of his shoes.

As he watched our boys with sparkling eyes and anticipation, we started to talk to him. We discovered he was collecting Pokémon toys too. It was his favorite thing, like it was with all eight-year-olds at the time. Each boy got a treasured Pokémon but my son Matthew happened to get one of the really good ones. He got a Raichu in his meal. Each of the boys gasped that he got such a rare and valuable toy. Part of the fun of Pokémon was to negotiate and try to trade up to better, more powerful Pokémon. The little boy very politely and thoughtfully negotiated for the Raichu. It was obvious he wanted it really bad. He politely negotiated every way he could, but to no avail, as Matthew declined to part with it. Matthew was a master negotiator and Pokémon trader.

At the end of the meal, we got in our car and began to drive away. As we were pulling out of the parking lot, we saw this eighty-plus-year-old lady hobbling along in the snow with the little boy. My wife felt impressed to pull back and ask them if they needed a ride. I reluctantly agreed. They accepted. As they got into the car, the story unfolded.

The boy's name was Danny, and his great-grandmother was raising him. She had also raised her three children, her three grandchildren, and now Danny. Danny’s mother had abused him and neglected him for the first year and a half of his life. She had been strung out on drugs and had served time in prison. He had a 20-year-old aunt who he loved and idolized. She was now in college and attempting to get through it as fast as possible so she could adopt him. The great-grandmother was concerned she might die before the granddaughter was old enough to be a legal guardian for Danny.

Danny lived for Pokémon. They had no car, and the great-grandmother had suffered from a fall and was crippled with a broken hip and injured shoulder. She was wearing old worn-out canvas tennis shoes that were soaking wet from walking in the deep snow.Danny was very excited because he was going home for Christmas to see his mom for the first time in six years. I noticed the worried look in the sweet grandmothers face. I think we were both worried that “this boy was being setup for a huge disappointment.” As they had no car, the two of them had walked from the West side of town, for over a mile in the snow, to go to Pokémon Trading Night at Burger King.

When we pulled into their humble driveway and let them out of our warm, comfortable car, tears welled in my eyes. My heart broke. What chance did Danny have? How decadent and indulgent we are. How blessed we are. We have a family! A family that loves each other! This is the greatest gift of all.

Although it was very hard, Matthew, John, and Nathan all went and independently gave the little boy their Pokéballs. Matthew had a big tear in his eye as he parted with the treasured Raichu. But they each felt like they needed to give this boy a small gift at Christmas. When we returned home, Matthew said, “I wish I was magic... I would wave my arms, make me another Raichu Pokéball, and make that little boy be loved by his mom and dad.”

I am not sure that Danny will ever remember my boys but I know that my boys will always remember Danny. Confidence, self-worth, and joy, comes from helping and serving others. The blessing of offering up a valued Raichu toy and Pokéballs was my son’s blessing and life definition, not Danny’s.

We do not know what happened to Danny. We do not know what trajectory his life ended up taking. What I do know is that God loves Danny as he loves each of us, and we all need to be more conscious and self-aware and serve each other.

My boys learned a lesson that day that no lecture or class-room could ever teach.They learned about love and compassion.They learned about service and sacrifice.Each year at Christmas time our family lights candles and talks about something that they are grateful for. Every year since meeting Danny at least one of my sons brings up his name and the feelings that they had that night at Burger King.

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