“I Don’t Know what to call him,
But he’s mighty like a rose.

Lyrics by Frank Lebby Stanton
Music by Ethelbert Nevin

It was New Year’s Eve at Duke University Hospital emergency room in Durham, North Carolina, and my friend Perry was dying. Few places have the adrenaline rush and high anxiety of a hospital emergency room at night. There was nothing anyone could do for Perry but make him comfortable.

I stepped outside under the canopy where the ambulances unloaded.

A mother and her eight-year-old son offered me a place to sit beside them on the wooden bench underneath the canopy. Then she walked away to talk on her cell phone.

As I sat thinking of Perry, a tiny voice from behind me asked, “What did you get for Christmas?”

It might as well have been Elijah; I was so startled.

I told the little boy that my favorite Christmas present was a book about the oldest living things in the world. And what did he get, I asked? His favorite gift was a football.

It seemed as though Perry had dispatched an angel.