We buried my brother, Denny, in August. His second heart attack in 8 days finally did what infantile hydrocephalus, 45 years of hard physical work, Lupus, inter-cranial bleeding and loss of his eyesight (in that order) couldn't do. He was 67 years old. Mom left us in the fall off '82 with a stroke. Pa went in the summer of '95, Alzheimers and prostate cancer. Norm, our neighbor growing up, died of alzheimers and old age a couple years back. Norm's brother, Merle, went the same morning as Denny. My best friend Ken, went a year ago last spring in an auto accident; Richard, a friend from high school, 10 years ago in an accident at work. And another half dozen or so...
I've reached that stage of life that Pa warned me about. I was complaining about having to put on a groomsman's monkeysuit (tux) for yet another wedding and he told me to shut up. He said, " Enjoy every single wedding you go to. The first half of your life is all weddings. The second half is all funerals." I didn't REALLY get it then. I do now.
Denny was, technically speaking, our half-brother; as Mom had been married and widowed before she married our dad. Denny was 17 when Mom and he came to the ranch. And in less than 4 years, he had 3 half brothers. And God blessed us with him. He fed us, changed our diapers, drove us to school functions, laughed when we did and cried when we did. Denny loved us, unconditionally. Every family should be so lucky as to have a Denny.
There's so much I could say; so much I want to say, but I'm not sure how. I could talk about Denny's huge heart and how he'd give you the shirt off his back. I could talk about his reliability, as rock solid as the eastern sunrise. I could talk about his love of country music or his being developmentally challenged. I could talk about his sunny disposition and the way neighbors lit up smiling when he'd walk in; or the profane teasing we all engaged in back and forth the way blue-collar boys and men do. And Denny certainly gave as good as he got in that department.
We got to spend some quality time with him that last week. And for that I'm very grateful. But it made the funeral that much rougher to get through. There was a good turnout for the sevice. Seems we wern't the only ones that loved ol' Denny. But then, most of these funerals have had pretty good turnouts. Which is logical, since funerals aren't really for the departed. They're thrown in the guest of honors name; but they're for us, the ones left here, trying to make sense of things.
And so, I'm sitting here tonight, going over the too long to-do list before the Santa season, and remembering, and laughing some and crying some; and ruminating; trying to make sense of things. Which will just drive you batty, I know. Because there's a lot of things I'll never figure out. But I do know one thing and that's that Denny loved me. He loved all of us. And we loved him. His love in our family wasn't a raging river, or a wild thunderstorm kind of love. It was the big boulder, the sign post, the landmark; that when you passed it you knew you were home. Because that landmark is always there and it always means that same thing. You're home. You're safe.
When I hold a little one on my knee, that's what I hope s/he feels. That feeling that Denny gave us...gave me. Home and safety. Santa's here with solid, boulder, landmark love for you. Here, at least, you're safe. Denny's gone now, but that love remains, It's part of me, the way it was part of him. He gave it to me. His first, best gift-that he ever gave me. And now it's my turn to give it to my grandkids. And to every kid who sits on my knee at Christmas.
Denny can die. I can die. But Santa can't die. And that kind of love...it never dies.
I'm hoping your upcoming season, and all your sesons yet to come, are full of that kind of love. Have a blessed Christmas.
This was my fourth season as a Santa. For the last three years I've been the Santa for the local elementary school Christmas program. Santa closes out the show with an appearance, some candy canes and with a crush of some 50+ youngsters in the last hour as parents shoot pics up at the stage from the floor below. It represented some unique difficulties best discussed elsewhere.
That was the preceding two years. This year, due to weather and travel issues they postponed the elementary program and consolidated it with the high school program running them in sequence: grade school-intermission-high school. So Santa found himself as 'filler' between programs this year.
It was an ad-hoc jumble-XXXX of an affair passing out the candy and being completely surrounded by yelling little ones. Midway through the candy canes I saw her. 6 or 7 years old, dark haired, and mad as a wet hen. You could see it in her face. I pulled up short and asked her what was wrong. She said, "All I want for Christmas is my dad to be nicer to me..." What could I say or do? Given the circumstances, not much. I told her I'd say a prayer for her. It sounded lame to my own ears even as it rolled off my tongue. I finished the candy passing, did my 15 minute set, and cleared out. I looked for her as I left, but didn't see her.
And what she said, and my response gnawed at me. And I hoped and prayed I'd get a chance to do more, say more, make some kind of a positive difference with her. And two weeks later, at a late season daycare booking; my chance came.
There she was standing in front of me, just as cute as before but looking sad now rather than angry. She was the last one to come to sit on Santa's lap. I said, "I saw you at the Christmas program." And she allowed as how I had. I asked her what was wrong and why her dad was mean to her. And it just came tumbling out. He yelled at her and never apologized but she always apologized afterward when she yelled at him. That was about as much context as I could pull out of wet eyed, trembling lipped little one, I'll call 'Mary'.
I told Mary that sometimes Daddies and Mommies make mistakes too just like children do. And that some people have a very hard time saying they're sorry. And that one of the hardest lessons to learn is how to forgive someone after they've hurt our feelings. And she started to cry.
I pulled her close and whispered in her ear that she was loved. She was special and no one could take that away from her no matter what they said or how they said it. I asked her if she wanted to pray and she said yes; so we bowed our heads and said a silent prayer. When I looked up, I felt that I hadn't gotten down to it with her. She needed something more...
All the while, there's an elderly lady sitting 8 feet away on the living room couch very carefully not paying any attention (but hanging on every word) . So I pulled Mary to me for another hug and whispered to her that Santa had a secret to tell her.
I told her that she had control of her feelings, "And that nobody can make you feel anyway you don't want to feel. They can't hurt your feelings without your permission. They can yell or say something mean or hurtful to you and you can choose how to feel about it. You can say, ' Nope, I feel too good today-I'm not gonna let you hurt my feelings'. You can choose to let hurtful things just roll off you like water off a duck's back."
I looked at her again, and she smiled. Really beamed. I'd said the right thing at the right time and really reached her. I'd made a tiny positive impact in a young life. And far more importantly than how I felt, Mary had a new tool in her toolkit for the future.
That's my favorite memory of the 2013 Christmas season.
Why should we care about Christmas since it's just an overly commercialized holiday and Santa is just an advertising pitchman?
There's not a holiday that hasn't been commercialized. Valentines Day? Cards and candy. Independence Day? Fireworks. Labor Day? BBQ grills and vacation spots. Halloween? Not even going to bother with that one. Cupid, Uncle Sam, Boogie-men, then Santa. And Christmas? It's a retailers dream of a holiday:gift giving on steroids. And people seem to want to blame the symbol of the commercialization and NOT the commercialization itself.
Whether you believe in the Christian religion and the dogma is...irrelevant. The story of the birth of a savior of mankind is a powerful tale that's lasted thousands of years. And traditions have been appropriated from other stories and traditions from Pagan (Christmas trees) , to Nordic (Odin and his 8 legged horse in the sky) , from multiple traditions (mistletoe & holly), to Christianity (the bishop gift giver St. Nicholas) to...you name it. And out of that multi-millenial, multi-cultural, multi-religion-stew wafted Father Christmas and Sinter Klass who became Santa Claus.
And as a pitchman: Santa and Christmas go together like a hand in a glove. Gift-giving holiday (Holy day) and gift-giver St. Nicholas.
And ad-men frankly, abuse him. So he's used to sell everything from soft drinks to time shares. And what gets lost in all the imagery and advertising copy is the SPIRIT of giving. Whether it's a savior giving his life to save mankind, or wise-men bringing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, or a father and mother sacrificing so the children they love can have gifts under the tree; too many people forget it's not about the buying, it's not about the getting, IT'S ABOUT THE GIVING.
Christmas is at it's heart, a Christian holy day. But it's also more than that. It's also a secular holiday that celebrates giving and the love that that giving represents. And that's who Santa really is. He's the symbol of that love and giving. He's a symbol of what we human beings COULD be...if we'd just try a little harder and get out of own way. He's a lasting symbol of what is noblest and best in humanity. Our love for, and giving to, one another. Santa is the antithesis of, and the lasting cure for, our post-industrial, information deluged, cynical age.
Santa's spirit of giving generosity is what truly professional Santa portrayals (professional in the sense of dedication to craft & artistry) aspire to and try to emulate. And succeed at & fail at, as we all do. But the honest and lasting nobility is in the continual attempt.
And I'd offer that that aspiration to emulate Santa's nature of loving giving; makes us not just better Santas...but better human beings.
Just something that's been on mind a while...
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