It's been a heck of a year. But if there's a single, true Christmas story making the rounds that will put it all in perspective and make sure you're in the holiday spirit--this is the one.
It's the story of two strangers:
- Randy Heiss, a 60-year-old Arizonan who works as the executive director of a civic association, and
- Dayami, an 8-year-old girl who lives with her parents and her sister just across the border in Nogales, Mexico.
Like a lot of kids around the world, Dayami wrote a letter to Santa Claus. Among the things she asked for: an "Enchantimals" doll and dollhouse, some clothes, some art supplies and slime, and a few other things.
Then, as she's apparently done for the past few years, she tied it to a balloon and let it fly up into the sky. The winds picked it up and carried it far out of sight -- 20 miles or so, across the border into the United States.
Eventually, the balloon popped. The letter floated to the ground, in Patagonia, Arizona, in a remote, dusty area. The land happened to belong to Heiss, and when he was walking his dog Feliz some time later, he came across the tattered remains of the red balloon.
Heiss doesn't speak much Spanish, but he figured the letter for what it was, and brought it home to his wife. She's bilingual, and translated it for him.
Heiss said he was charmed by the whole thing. Perhaps because he and his wife had lost their only child nine years ago, he later recounted to a local newspaper, he decided he wanted to find the girl who had written the letter.
"My heart kind of melted," Heiss told Nogales International.
The only problem: She'd signed it with only her first name, and no address. Heiss would be shooting in the dark.
He posted a photo of the list on Facebook, hoping it might go viral, and that someone might recognize it and put him in touch with the girl or her family. No such luck.
Then, last week, he came up with another idea: He contacted a popular Nogales radio station, Radio XENY, which got back to him immediately, agreeing to promote the story on the air and on their Facebook page.
Somewhat to his surprise, within 24 hours they'd located her. They called quickly to ask if he'd be willing to come to the station in Mexico to meet the girl and her family.
"It just changed my entire day," Heiss told The Washington Post, after the radio station contacted him to tell him of their success. "Instead of going back to my office in Bisbee, I went with my wife to Walmart."
They bought everything they could find on the list, along with some other toys for Dayami's 4-year-old younger sister. (The only thing they couldn't find: the dollhouse, which was sold out.)
Then, they drove 45 minutes across the border to the radio station in Nogales, "with presents by the armload -- and finally met two very excited little girls," the Post reported.
The scene Heiss recalled afterward is heartwarming. He and his wife told the children they were Santa's helpers ("ayudantes de Santa"), so as not to ruin Santa Claus in the process of fulfilling Dayami's letter.
Their eyes were wide open with wonder. Like, 'Oh, my gosh, this really did work!' ... It was a beautiful, beautiful experience. Quite healing for us. Being around children at Christmastime has been absent in our lives," he told the Post.
And he reflected on the fact that for both sides of this Christmas gesture, the whole thing really became a "miracle."
"It's been kind of a gaping hole in our Christmas experience," he continued. "We now have friends for life. And, for a day, that border fence with its concertina wire melted away."