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Two-time Christopher Award-winning author Christopher de Vinck knows firsthand the truth of the Scripture verse from Isaiah 11:6, “A little child shall lead them.” He saw it in his home, growing up with his severely disabled brother Oliver, about whom he wrote the acclaimed memoir, “The Power of the Powerless.” Christopher has now applied that idea to a Christmas novel called “Mr. Nicholas,” which tells the story of a boy with Down syndrome, his self-absorbed father who can’t accept his son’s disability, and the Santa Claus figure who helps bridge the divide between the two of them. We discussed it recently on “Christopher Closeup.”
Christopher recalled that no one knew anything was wrong with Oliver after he was born, until one day when his mother noticed he was staring directly at the sun and realized he was blind. Christopher explained, ”As the years progressed, they realized he had no intellect. They came to Mount Sinai Hospital, the doctor did all sorts of tests and said, ‘Take him home and love him.’ My mom said that was the best advice a doctor could give...We fed Oliver, bathed Oliver...He lay in bed for 32 years. He could not see, talk, learn, [or] even chew. But my mom would always remind us how blessed we were to have our health, and to have the compassion and love to tend to somebody who was so weak and helpless...The one thing he did, in the middle of the night, he would laugh and laugh. We never understood. My sister said, ‘He’s probably laughing with the angels.’…It’s hard to explain Oliver, except that he was physically a mess, but he was spiritually whole.”
JB, the boy with Down syndrome in “Mr. Nicholas,” has fewer physical problems than Oliver, but he is spiritually whole as well. JB’s father, John, on the other hand, is not. Though Christopher has met many parents of children with disabilities who are loving and supportive of their kids, a few were not able to accept their child’s condition. They inspired the character of John, who agreed to have a child with his wife to strengthen their relationship. Instead, it wound up driving them apart, mainly because John prefers to keep his relationships superficial—and because he can’t accept his less-than-perfect son. It takes the actions of the jolly, white-bearded hardware store owner Mr. Nicholas to help John see JB as the wonderful, loving child he is.
When I asked Christopher about God’s role in his writing, he referenced the line from the movie “Chariots of Fire,” when one of the runners states, “I run because God made me fast. I run for His pleasure.” Christopher believes his talent for writing connects him to something higher. He also hopes that readers of “Mr. Nicholas” find that connection themselves in the book.
Christopher concluded, “I hope that they’re reminded, Christmas is so far beyond what you find in the malls, so much more than exchanging presents and gifts. There is that wonderful story of this little child who was born thousands of years ago and changed the way we think about the world. So, ‘Mr. Nicholas’ is about a little boy who changed the way a mother and father thought about the world and about themselves. I’m not giving anything away, they do not get the divorce after all, they do stay together. And the Christmas story is that [simplicity], innocence, purity of heart, goodness, and the Christ Child can make the greatest difference in our lives.”
For free copies of the Christopher News Note PEACE: THE ESSENCE OF THE CHRISTMAS MESSAGE, write: The Christophers, 5 Hanover Square, New York, NY 10004; or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org