January 3, 2005 Newsletter
Last year I went through my second divorce.
Wait. What’s that? You ask, how can someone who writes about
and teaches principles for effective living be the product of
two failed marriages? Well, you’ve heard the saying, “Those
who can, do; those who can’t, teach,” haven’t you?
Okay, I’m sorry. That wasn’t funny. The fact
of the matter is, it took the pain of several failed attempts
to find fulfillment through conventional means promoted by
society before the answers were finally revealed to me. It
was that incessant longing for happiness and my seeming
inability to attain it that led me on a continual search for
the truths of this existence. A deep desire to know and help
others like me come to know the truth has been a salve but not
a shield from life’s wounds.
And so last year, with incredible acrobatics, I
extricated myself from the business of marriage. Name changes
and property liquidations and ownership transfers finally
culminated a few weeks ago when I bought out his share in, of
all things, a cemetery plot. I felt totally ridiculous
handing him a check for $75 to ensure that our remains would
not be laid side by side in permanent repose in the
shadow of the small country church I attended in my youth. As
I wrote out the check, I tried to recall what I was thinking
twelve years earlier when I wrote the check to purchase the
four side-by-side gravesites. Apparently, we had planned to
rest there forever with two other people, although I can’t for
the life of me remember who they were. I also can’t recall
the motivations that made me think it was so important to be
preoccupied at barely thirty years of age with where my bones
would lie after my spirit had been set free from this
I’m not sure I was thinking clearly at all.
Before it was over, my family and his had purchased enough sod
in the middle of the graveyard to create a veritable family
cemetery, despite the fact that we were all living farther and
farther apart, flung it would seem by the wind to the four
corners. Maybe we thought this would ensure we finally spent
some time together. Regardless of our motivation, it now
appears quite foolish and has thus become a constant reminder
to me of how easily we become focused on things that don’t
matter, to the detriment of things that do. That’s probably
why I was so happy to spend Christmas with my family this
With the world forever changed by 9/11, this
Christmas found my brother-in-law serving his country in
Afghanistan, while my only sister and two nephews, ages ten
and four, tried to have a normal Christmas in their new home
not far from Nashville, Tennessee. When she asked me and our
mother and father to come help her make Christmas for the
boys, it was an easy request to accept.
I soon learned that my job would be to take the
boys shopping for their mother’s present on Christmas Eve, in
order to get them out of the house and clear the way for my
dad to assemble their Santa Claus presents, which would be
kept hidden in the basement until time for Santa to place them
under the tree. I also learned that this was the year that my
ten-year-old nephew had learned the truth about Santa.
“You lied to me! You told me you believed in
Santa!” he admonished my sister. But in her special, motherly
way, she had explained to him that she had always and would
always believe in Santa. “Santa is the spirit of Christmas,”
she explained to her inquisitive young son who was growing
into a young man right before her eyes. “God gave us the gift
of his son, Jesus, on the first Christmas. And the wise men
brought gifts to baby Jesus. Then the real St. Nicolas
carried on this tradition by giving gifts to poor children.
Ever since Jesus was given as the original Christmas gift,
we’ve celebrated this spirit of love and giving down through
the ages. This spirit of Christmas lives because we keep it
alive. St. Nicolas lives in all of us. And now that you know
the truth, his spirit will live in you too.” This seemed to
satisfy him as she walked away smiling to herself, before
wheeling to add this caution, “And don’t you dare ruin it for
your little brother!”
As we made our way through the crowded streets,
parking lots, and shopping malls this Christmas Eve, I could
easily see that he had taken her lesson to heart. When I
explained that he would need to distract his younger brother
while I purchased last-minute stocking stuffers, he seemed
confused, until I quickly explained that his little brother
must believe that Santa had stuffed the stockings. “Ohhhh!”
he exclaimed knowingly. We whispered our plans from store to
store, and smiled and winked our signs to one another as he
went about finding ways to occupy his brother. He was a
little too convincing, though, and probably should get a sales
commission from at least two stores where I was forced to
purchase the toys used for diversionary purposes.
But as we drove home that day with all the
secret presents hidden away in my backpack and his little
brother safely buckled in his booster seat in back, I noticed
that my elder nephew didn’t seem any worse off for having his
childhood illusions shattered. If anything, he seemed more
peaceful and fulfilled by the experience of being a full
participant in the season. Gone was the little boy who begged
and pleaded for toys, as his four-year-old brother still did.
No longer was he a selfish child focused on what he could
get. In the time it took to blink my eyes, he had grown into
a giving young man relishing the joy of showing love to others
this holiday season.
It was interesting to watch him on Christmas
morning. His present from Santa still awaited him under the
tree, complete with his personal note from Santa (dictated by
my sister but scribed in the unfamiliar hand of my mother) and
his stuffed stocking still leaned against the hearth as it had
on each of his ten Christmases. He smiled a knowing smile at
all the adults.
Then there was the four-year-old’s reaction.
It had been a tough night for him. Spurred on by news of
Santa’s journey on the TV news, claims by his mother and
grandmother that a bright light visible in the night sky must
be Santa and his sleigh, and his grandfather’s best reading of
The Night Before Christmas, he had been worked into a
frenzy by 8:30 p.m. He insisted that we go to bed right away
so Santa would come – eliciting groans from Grandpa – but his
little body trembled with excitement. He was all worked up,
partially from the anticipation of Santa’s visit, and partly
from the healthy serving of chocolate cake we had foolishly
allowed him to eat. Sleep would not come, and as minutes
ticked into hours, he went beyond sleep into delirium. Any
attempts to remind him that Santa would only come if he went
to sleep like a good little boy simply added to his hysteria.
His tears flowed easily, as he tearfully reminded his mother,
“It’s hard to be happy without Daddy.”
Watching him struggle through the night, I
realized how difficult it was for such a small child to
proceed through the normal routines of his little life, when
it had become anything but normal. Now when I think of how
deep the sacrifices go in service of our country, I look
beyond the regular soldiers on foreign fields to these
helpless little ones back home. They are the forgotten
But all that pain was temporarily forgotten
when he tiptoed into the living room at 6 a.m. Christmas
morning to find his shiny present waiting under the tree. It
was a battery-operated, child-size ATV that he could drive all
“Santa brought it in the house!” he whispered
to me in amazement.
“Yes, he did,” I replied with a smile.
“How are we going to get it out?” he asked
I laughed as I read Santa’s note to him, and
watched his facial expressions with interest as I informed him
that Santa thought he had been “pretty good” and really
thought he needed to “try harder” next year!
He noted with awe how Santa had eaten the
cookies and drank the milk left on the hearth and explained to
all of us how Santa had brought his present down the chimney,
while my sister and I distributed the stockings.
Having a stocking for every member of the
family had never been part of our family tradition growing up
as sisters. I think it took all the extra money that Momma
and Daddy could save to purchase the presents we received from
them and from Santa, so there was none left for stocking
stuffers. Maybe that’s why Momma and Daddy were so surprised
to find their own waiting for them on Christmas morning at my
Daddy’s stocking was stuffed with a
pocketknife, wool socks, and handkerchiefs. Momma’s was
filled with Christmas socks and earrings, and both were topped
off with candy. They made a beeline to their room, and, I
swear, I think it was to hide their tears as they proclaimed
to us that these were the first stockings they ever had.
It was then that I knew the transition was
complete. Me, my sister, and her older son – the new man of
the family this year – were no longer the children waiting for
our parents to make Christmas for us. This year was our turn
to be Santa for them. As my sister and I had struggled to
quietly carry the presents up the basement stairs and
whispered to one another to get the right gifts in each
stocking – the gifts purchased by me and my elder nephew – we
had played Santa Claus. We had brought the spirit of
Christmas to life once again. And, for a few moments, the
pain of missing Daddy was eased for two precious little boys.
I saw their vibrant smiles and looked into
their sparkling eyes, and the farthest thing from my mind was
whether our bodies would ever end up in the ground
side-by-side in cemetery plots on a hilltop far, far way.
Never again will I be preoccupied with where my bones will
rest. My preoccupation will be with living.
For now and always, I will remain focused on
how I can bring the spirit of Christmas to life each and every
day. I will forevermore be buoyed in that quest by the memory
of my four-year-old nephew’s innocence and wonder, my
ten-year-old nephew’s unselfishness, my sister’s generosity,
my brother-in-law’s sacrifice, and my parents’ gratitude.
May the spirit of Christmas live in you every
day and forevermore, and may 2005 be the year that you begin
to live the life that you were born to live!