Loss

It was December 15, 1966.  I was 5 years old and my mother and I were in the kitchen.  It was there that she told me Walt Disney had died.  I remember wandering into our side yard and feeling like a light had gone out.  This man had visited our house every Sunday night for as long back as I could remember.  I didn’t understand death, I’m not sure I do yet, but I knew that life had changed and something wonderful had ended.

The next celebrity death that should have impacted me was Judy Garland.  It was June of 1969 and I was 8 years old.  My parents didn’t tell me of her death.  I think they decided I wouldn’t understand.  After all, I only knew Judy Garland as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz.  If they told me Dorothy had died I would have been devastated.  And it wouldn’t have made any sense.  She was still on the screen, every year.  How could Dorothy be dead?

As a child the TV and movie characters that you love are real.  The actors don’t exist.  Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson were Batman and Robin.  Adam West and Burt Ward, the names at the beginning of the show were meaningless.  The need to believe is deeply entrenched in a child.  I never saw the line used to make Mary Martin fly in Peter Pan.  I never saw the cheesy special effects in Dark Shadows.  Peter Pan flew and Dark Shadows scared the crap out of me it wasn’t until I was older that I began to see the flaws.

Other examples are Sally Field and Patty Duke.   Sally Field was Gidget. In an episode of The Flying Nun, where Sally Field played Sister Bertrille, they showed footage from Gidget, where Gidget was surfing.  I didn’t see these as two separate shows, I figured Gidget had decided to become a nun that made total sense to me.  With Patty Duke, I had no clue that  Patty Duke played both Patty and Cathy Lane.  To me, they were two separate people and as real as my own family.

I must have been about ten when the fantasy in life gave way to reality.  That was the year I asked my dad if Santa Claus was real.  He didn’t give me an answer.  He said, “What do you think?”  I thought about it and realized that Santa couldn’t be real and in a very real way childhood came to an end.

Childhood’s end is probably the most significant loss any of us go through.  I don’t know that we see it as a loss at the time.  Most of us are in a hurry to grow up and find out what was in the mysterious bottles kept in the cabinet that only our parents drank from.  Or we can’t wait to drive or for school simply to be over forever.  It’s when we get older that we miss the magic of Santa Claus coming on Christmas Eve or, at night, staring out your bedroom window wishing on the first star you see or hoping this was the night Peter Pan would come and take you to Neverland where you wouldn’t have to grow up and no adult would be around to tell you what you should do.

I guess I’m lucky.  I still wonder about Santa on Christmas Eve and I think about leprechauns on Saint Patrick’s Day.  In my imagination, I can happily visit Middle Earth and Narnia and for a brief time suspend the horrors of this world.  I would rather face a dragon than continue to watch the mess the Republican Party and The Democratic Party continue to make of this country.  You can fight a dragon but you can’t fight city hall.

Since the death of Betty White on December 31st of last year I have been watching Hot In Cleveland.  This was the last show she starred in along with Valerie Bertinelli, Jane Leeves, and Wendy Mallick.  It was a show about 3 women from LA who have to make an emergency stop in Cleveland on their way to Paris.  Because of the attention paid to them by the men in Cleveland they decide they could have a better life in the new city and decide to stay.  They rent a house with a caretaker who is played by Betty White and the show is set.

Hot in Cleveland ran for six seasons on TV land and was funny if a bit earthy at times.  The scripts were good and the supporting cast was excellent.  The show had many guest stars from the best of TV, Carol Burnett, Robert Wagner, Tim Daly, and many others.  One show had William Shatner, Shirley Jones, and Georgia Engel all sharing the stage with Betty White and Valerie Bertinelli.  Most of my childhood TV shows were represented on that one stage.

It was when Regis Philbin made his guest star appearance across several shows that I began to feel a sense of loss.  Regis died in 2020 but he was a big part of my daily life both at home and at work.  I was a dialysis technician back in the 80s and the TV sets were all set To Live with Regis and Kathy Lee every morning.  I became a big fan of both of these stars and loved the show.  On days I wasn’t working or went in for the later shift I made sure I saw it.  The legacy of the show lives on with two other co-hosts but no one could match the energy of Regis Philbin and that energy was still present in Hot in Cleveland.  But I realized he was gone.

Not long after that, all the women that starred in The Mary Tyler Moore show came on as guests.  These included Miss Moore, Chloris Leachman, and Valerie Harper.  Betty White was already on the show and Georgia Engel had become a recurring character.  At one point they were all sitting around a table trading very funny insults when I realized that all the women at that table were gone.  This saddened me as well.

Early in the New Year news reached all of us that Bob Saget died in his sleep in a hotel room in Florida after doing his one-man stand-up show.  Bob was 65 years old and it recently came out that it was due to some sort of head trauma that he died.  Bob Saget played Danny Tanner on the much-loved Situation Comedy Full House which ran for 8 seasons on ABC.  He then reprised the role of Danny Tanner in the show Fuller House.

Bob Saget was a well-loved man both on and off the screen.  His co-stars had nothing but good things to say about him and the girls, now women, who played his daughters looked at him as a second father.  Not long after his death, I started to watch Full House again on HBO MAX and found myself welling with tears at almost every episode.  The episodes made me laugh but they were filled with a genuine sentimentality and the show plays just as well today as it did when it first aired in 1987 to 1995.

Many other celebrities touched my heart at their death.  Ethel Merman was first. She passed in 1984 but she was a part of my life because I had fallen in love with Broadway. Ethel Merman was and still is the queen of Broadway. No one was like her and no one like her will ever come again. Lucille Ball in 1989 was next.  Lucy was and always will be my favorite.  I felt very sad the day she passed.  Something else wonderful had gone out of this world.  In 1990 Mary Martin passed away.  My Peter Pan was gone, and I remember it well, a little magic left my heart.

Why do celebrity deaths or better yet the death of stars bother me so much?  I think with some of them I’m watching the generation before me flicker out and die.  Soon all those who grew up in the 20s, 30s, and 40s will be gone and all that will be left is memories and photographs and these are not just the stars they are my father, mom is already gone, my aunt’s and uncles and all those I hold dear to me.

Then there are the celebrities of my generation.  Bob Saget was 5 years older than me.  Mike Nesmith was a bit older but still part of my generation.  David Cassidy played a huge part in my life.  I went from Puff The Magic Dragon to I Think I Love You because of him and The Partridge Family.  I was saddened when he passed as well.

Seeing my generation begin to pass away made me realize that life is very short and your time could be up at any point.  The Bible says that “all the days of my life were written for me before I was born.”  This means that God knew when I would enter this world and the day is planned for when I will exit and that day is much closer now than it was when I was younger.

I don’t want to leave anything half done when it’s my time to go.  I don’t think I can make all of my dreams come true but I believe that some of them still can.  I’m writing this blog weekly for more than 6 months.  That’s the grace of God and me leaving something behind that may help others.  I’ve lost a total of 25 pounds so far.  I have quite a long way to go but I want to do it and make some of my other of my dreams happen.  It will be good to have a healthy body.

There are still wonderful adventures ahead.  I have no idea what most of them will be but opportunities will come and it’s up to me to say yes and find out what will happen.  Peter Pan says in the play written by JM Barrie that “Death will be an awfully big adventure.”  And it will be, “The journey doesn’t end here.  Death is just another path, one that we all must take.  The grey rain rain-curtain of this world rolls back and all turns to silver glass.  And then you see it.  White shores and beyond, a far green country under a swift sunrise.” – JRR Tolkien

The Academy Awards

Let’s start by saying I am not, nor have I ever been, a big fan of award shows.  I do like the spectacle and the sometimes-amazing musical numbers.  When it comes to The Tony Awards, I enjoy watching the scenes from different nominated shows because it is unlikely, I will see them on Broadway.  It’s a glimpse into a place I get to less than once a year.  Award shows in general just don’t seem quite right to me.  One person’s art is another’s garbage so how can an award show be objective?  Who’s to say what makes any art form great?

The Academy Awards are also known as The Oscars, a term I will use from now on, used to be at least fair in their award shows.  These days I don’t see it as fair at all especially with our new world of political correctness.  Political correctness seems to be something everyone hates and yet no one wants to do anything about.

I believe in equal rights for every person on this earth.  I believe that we should all be able to pursue those things that make us happy.  I believe that we should work in the field that we are gifted in.  I believe that every person is entitled to dignity and respect.  And I believe that everyone should be able to believe in what they choose to believe.  Every person has to grapple with their beliefs and then live with the outcome of that battle.

I don’t believe that we should forget or erase the past.  I don’t believe Columbus Day should be replaced by Indigenous People Day.  I believe there should be an Indigenous People day it just shouldn’t cancel out Christopher Columbus, who though a flawed man, like we all are, still did an amazing thing that I am reaping the benefits of today.  You see for me it’s not either-or but and.

This brings me back to The Oscars.  In 1958 Auntie Mame was nominated for best picture.  Auntie Mame is a comedy about a madcap aunt raising her orphaned nephew.  It’s a great film was a terrific cast and great performances.  The movie didn’t win.  It was a comedy and it was rare for comedies to win an Oscar but it was in the running now you never see a comedy in the Academy Awards.  Making people laugh seems unimportant to those who make these decisions.

In 1966 The Oscar for best picture went to The Sound of Music.  In 1965 both My Fair Lady and Mary Poppins were nominated for Best Picture.  My Fair Lady won but Julie Andrews took The Oscar home for best actress.  All three of these movies were family-friendly and were beautiful films.  Could you see any of them winning an Oscar today?  Of course not.  Not many films today that win Oscars are family-friendly.  Very few even get nominated and that is a tragedy.  We keep talking about needing diversity in our culture and that is absolutely true but diversity does not have to be serious or violent or sexy.  It can and should be fun exciting and humorous.  We need serious films with strong endings to teach us about life and the fact that it’s hard.  No one gets out without some bumps and bruises but life is also funny and joyful and warm and cuddly we need our films to express all these things and those that do this well should be given an Oscar, After all, it was Auntie Mame who said, “Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death.”

This brings us to the nominees for this year’s Oscar for best picture.  This year’s nominations are not as bad as the last few years.  There really is diversity in tone and subject matter.  It was great to see West Side Story on the list and Dune, a Sci-Fi epic was a complete surprise to me.  The rest were films I am less impressed with but that is a matter of taste.  There is just one problem with this list.  One movie that checked every box that makes a movie great was snubbed by The Academy.

This movie was well written, filled with both action and suspense.  It has a great cast and had humor as well as tragedy.  The film was loved by almost everyone who saw it.  It got good reviews and ranked at 96% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.  It has also won a Golden Tomato award.  It is still in theaters and is slowly overtaking the films that have grossed the most amount of money.  The film I am talking about is Spiderman No Way Home.

Spiderman No Way Home would have been up for best picture 60 years ago without a doubt.  It has everything a movie should have and then some.  Even surprises that no one was expecting but were wonderful to see as the story unfolded.  So what happened to us.  Why is this film not Oscar-worthy.  I’m not sure I know.  Still, I’ll take a shot at it.

I think the Academy has become a group of politically correct snobs.  They don’t see that life can be fun and that Superheroes, who are part of our modern mythology have a long-standing and respected place in our society.  There are college courses on comic book heroes and though originally a form of entertainment for children is now a form of entertainment for adults.  The characters are complex and interesting and the fact some of them have been around for more than eighty years proves that they have something that our world needs.  I think that is hope.

Today’s world doesn’t seem to have much hope.  This is reflected in some of our TV shows, our books, and our films.  Superhero movies provide hope because good always triumphs in the end.  Disney films do the same thing.  As did the Harry Potter series, The Lord of the Rings, and three films that were done in The Chronicles of Narnia.  Only one of these won best picture and that was The Return of the King the third part of The Lord of the Rings the first two parts were never even nominated.  Movies need to give us hope again.

It all comes back to story.  We are all a story have I have stated before.  We are our own story but we are also part of a bigger story that God began to write when he created the earth and everything on it.  Our movies and our books and TV shows and comic books are all ways for us to find our place in our own stories.  Are we the heroes or are we the villain?  Are we the one who disaster strikes or are we the one who saves the day?  The answer to these questions is yes, we are all of these.

Let me give you an example of how stories have affected my life.  Back in 1972, a television show premiered on the CBS network.  That show was The Waltons.  I was 11 at the time but the show became a family favorite.  The lead character John-boy the eldest son became a hero to me.  He had to wear glasses to read and I had just been given my first pair, he was creative and he wrote, and it was watching that series that inspired me to become a writer as well.  I wrote all kinds of things and for a little while in 6th grade started the first and only school newspaper my elementary school ever had.  The Primos Press.  I did this with my best friend Charlie Meo but behind all of it was John-boy Walton.

Stories shape us.  They help guide us and help us make decisions.  The process may not be conscious but it’s there.  We are formed by our own story and by the stories of others both fictional and real.  This is why we watch movies and it’s why we need those movies that are honored with an Oscar to be films that show the things we need to know.

Remember that movies are subjective so what I love will not always be what other people love.  But when a vast majority of people enjoy a film, that film deserves an Oscar nomination.  Spiderman No Way Home is such a film.  And it is a sad reflection on our culture that it was ignored.

When it’s Time to Change

“When it’s time to change,

You’ve got to rearrange,

Who you are into what you’re going to be.”

I don’t know if you remember or not, but back in the late ’60s and into the ’70s there was a popular television show called The Brady Bunch.  The premise of the show was that a widow with three girls and a widower with three boys meet and marry and TV’s first melded family was born.  The show was a situation comedy and ran for five seasons and 117 episodes.  One of those episodes was about change.

In the episodes the middle son Peter was going through the process every young man does when his voice changed.  This would have been no big deal but Peter’s brothers and sisters were entered in a contest to sing and Peter’s voice cracked every time he went for a high note.  The oldest brother, Greg, came up with a solution.  He wrote a song about the changes every teenager goes through and featured Peter’s changing voice.  The day was saved and the kids won the contest.

That song, the chorus of which is at the top of this article, is one that had followed me throughout my life.  Life is many things but one thing remains true there are always changes.  Some are small changes.  You have to change a doctor’s appointment time or for one reason or another, you cannot cook dinner so you have to eat out.  Others are large changes, your spouse has died and you must adjust to living on your own or you have been laid off work and you must scramble to find another job before unemployment runs out.

There are more light-hearted changes.  Moving into a new house can be stressful, but if you are moving from a small house into a bigger house it can also be fun.  Watching the seasons change from one to the next can be beautiful.  I personally love watching summer fade into Fall but I equally enjoy watching winter, as Oscar Hammerstein put it, “melt into Spring.”

I have written quite a bit about change in my weekly blogs.  My changes are not severe as losing a spouse might be nor are they beautiful as watching the seasons change.  My changes are personal and for the betterment of myself and my health.  They are good changes but don’t let anyone for one moment think they are easy.

A little later today I go to the doctor and will get weighed.  In that appointment, I will find out whether I have lost anything over the last few weeks.  It hasn’t been quite a month yet.  I have been following the same food regimen I had been following so I have hope but I’m also nervous.  I don’t expect that I shed 22 pounds as I did on my last visit.  I had almost six weeks from the point I started and the point I got weighed.  This time it’s just about four weeks so it cannot be the same amount of weight that has come off.  But I am hoping for some.

I think the interesting thing is that I don’t miss those foods that in the past I constantly craved.  I couldn’t go a week without McDonald’s and all the other fast food places.  I couldn’t go a day without large amounts of sugary treats, mostly pie.  I still eat sugar but far from the binges, I would go less than two months ago. I also don’t miss carbonated and non-carbonated soft drinks.  I lived on Kool-Aid and lemonade mixes.  I fooled myself into thinking that these provided the vitamin C my body needed when I probably got the best vitamin C out of the daily multiple vitamins I was taking.  The things we tell ourselves to get our own way are probably the worst lies in the world.  In fact, it’s the lies we tell ourselves that most likely lead to the lies we may tell others.  I just thought of that but I will bet it’s true.

I lied to myself a lot.  Mostly about food.  I never went quite so far as to think that fast food was good for me but I did believe that it wouldn’t hurt me or make me fat.  I believed the same for sugary soft drinks.  I knew the indulgence of pies and cakes and chocolate was a problem but you can talk yourself into believing anything with the phrase, “one more won’t hurt.”  The problem is that one more does hurt.

As the song says, two months ago I realized it was time to change and I have been working on those changes ever since.  The first month of my new eating plan reaped a rich reward.  I lost 22 pounds this past, not quite a month, I lost three pounds.  It is not the number I would have wished for but it is a better number than 0.

I saw my doctor today and he does want me to incorporate exercise into my routine, which I have not done yet.  I have few options for exercise actually only one.  I have a set of free-standing pedals that I can place on a tabletop.  I can’t use my feet, but I can use my arms so I will begin there.  I’ll start with 15  minutes a day and move upward.  This will get me moving.  When I feel ready I will go to the YMCA and use the pool.  I can’t do that yet as some physical complications eliminate that as an option.  When I can get down about 80 pounds those complications should be gone.

So it’s time to keep changing and that is exactly what I intend to do.  It’s not going to be easy and there is a long road ahead, but I believe I can do this.  If you are thinking about any life-altering change now is the time.  Change is never easy but in the long run it is truly worth it.

Suicide

It shocked me to learn, last week, of the suicide of Peter Robbins.  For those of you who don’t know who Peter Robbins is, he was the voice actor who gave life to Charlie Brown in the first Peanuts specials in the 1960s.  He also reprised his role as Charlie Brown in the first Peanuts movie, A Boy Named Charlie Brown.  Peter was 65 at the time he ended his life.  As a friend of mine put it, “I hope he found peace.”

I heard of another suicide last week as well.  This wasn’t a famous person in any way.  He was a 72-year-old he left a note that said, “He couldn’t find a path forward to happiness.”

I wish with all my heart that these men had talked to someone before they ended their lives.  Depression to the point of suicide is not rare but it should be.  No one should ever feel that alone.  No one should ever feel that taking his or her own life is the only answer.

I have been dealing with depression most of my adult life.  I believed I was unloved and useless and like the note left above, I could see no path to happiness or contentment.  Many times suicide crossed my mind.  It seemed reasonable to kill myself.  I remember plans I had for committing suicide as way back as my teenage years. I planned I would get in the shower and stab myself so there would be no mess to clean up.  I had other plans too.

I felt like a failure most of my adult life because I wasn’t living up to somebody else’s expectations of me.  I put their opinion higher than my own.  I put what they thought was right for me higher than what I thought, or even what God thought, was right for me.  This led to depression.  Low self-esteem to the point of self-hatred and then to suicidal thoughts.  This all came to a head in March of 1990.

I had been living on my own for the first time since the previous October in what was the greatest apartment in the world.  It was the top floor of a Victorian-style home with all kinds of gabled roofs and large ceilings.  There was a tiny spot with a window and a small arched ceiling that made a mini chapel.  There was another spot between two rooms with an arched ceiling with no windows that looked like a cave.  There was, also, a bathroom with an old-fashioned tub with feet.  I loved that apartment.  At the time I couldn’t drive and the apartment left me very isolated.  I rarely entertained and nobody ever called.  I felt more and more alone and those feelings turned into a deep depression.  The depression turned to suicidal thoughts.

I should have hidden my bad feelings at work, but I couldn’t, so those feelings turned to bouts of anger.  I would lash out at just about everyone.  One day I was walking to the trolley stop to go to work and I firmly decided that I would kill myself the next day if something didn’t happen in the next 24 hours.  It was a decision but it was also a prayer because it was a threat I was making to God Himself.   My boss came in and I said something nasty to her.  She got away from me as quickly as possible but soon came back and called me into her office.  She told me I was out of control and these fits of anger had to stop or I would be fired.  I asked for the rest of the day off and went home. 

I made it back to the apartment and didn’t know what to do.  So I called my friend Manny.  Manny and I had been friends for more than ten years. He was a pastor and he was the only one I could think of who might be able to help me.  And he did but it was radical.

After listening to me, praying with me, and bathing me in scripture, as he called it, he then advised me to quit my job and move in with him and his family in Syracuse NY so he could help me one on one.  And believe it or not, I did it.  I packed up and moved to Syracuse.

I spent three life-changing years in Syracuse and met some friends who will always be a part of my life.  The problem is, though I learned a lot, I was not changed when it came to depression.  This was between the years 1990 and 1993.  I came home, worked a few different jobs, and ended up back in the job that I had left.

It wasn’t long before depression took a strong grip on me again.  This time I had to mask it.  I couldn’t lose this job.  So I hid my ugly thoughts.  I had seen a video on the way The Disney Company expected their cast members (all Disney employees are cast members) to act.  While working they were to consider themselves on stage and to their customers and fellow cast members they were to be positive smiling people.  This became my work ethic.  I was working in dialysis and while on the floor with my patients I was smiling helpful and encouraging.  When I got home I fell apart and despaired.

This went on for about 4 years until I finally talked to a nurse I had been working with for years.  She told me I should see the new associate pastor at her church.  He had counseling experience and might be able to help me.  I honestly didn’t want to do it.  I agreed, but only if she made the appointment.  I figured she would forget and I would be in the clear.  She didn’t forget and, my healing journey began.

It took years.  That first counselor turned into another counselor and a psychiatrist.  I had to take medication and that had to be dosed just right.  Over the years because of changes in insurance and people moving away I have had 5 counselors and 4 psychiatrists.  My current psychiatrist handles both the talk therapy and my medications.  I was blessed by each of these people in their own way.

Thoughts of suicide still cross my mind but they are fleeting.  More like a fly I can brush away pretty quickly.  My self-esteem has gone up and I can see value in who and what I am.  I know now that I don’t have to change for anyone.  I’m OK being me.  I have family and friends who I know love me.  I may not see them as often as I would like but I know for sure they are there in times of trouble.  Just go back read my blog titled Moving Day to find out how both my family and my friends pulled together to help me.

I’m not free from depression.  I’m not sure I ever will be.  But everyone gets depressed once in a while.  I have to be aware of when my depression is justified, caused by some real and possibly fixable situation in my life, and when my depression is chemical.  The chemical depressions are the hard days.  Sometimes you just have to see them through.  Sometimes you have to talk to a friend, a family member or a professional.  Sometimes these require hospitalizations.  I have been in the hospital twice with depression.  I don’t want to go a third time.  There is no shame in needing help during these times.  Anyone who tells you there is doesn’t know what they are talking about.

I can’t stress enough that everyone begins to listen for signs of depression and possible suicide attempts.  The first part is to listen.  We all need to be heard and sometimes our own need to be heard can drown out another’s need. Listen to your friends and your family.  Don’t blow anyone off who is feeling down for whatever reason and don’t brush off their pain as something they should just “get over.”  If you don’t know what to say, acknowledge that you’ve heard them and ask what you can do to help.  If you’ve listened without interrupting you may have helped enough.

If you are having thoughts of suicide talk to somebody.  There is always someone that wants to help.  The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 800-273-8255.  I used to have this on speed dial at one time.  I don’t anymore.  I am proof that things do get better.

Musicologists have found that listening to the soft rock sounds of the 1970s helps with depression.  The Carpenters, The Partridge Family, Bread, Barry Manilow and so on can help stabilize your mood.  Singing along helps even more.  I have found singing Broadway songs helps me.  Especially the music of Rodger’s Hammerstein.  My Favorite Things is my go-to song as it depicts lovely things that if you can see them as you listen or sing they cannot help but make you smile.  “Raindrops on roses, and Whiskers on Kittens, bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens, Brown paper packages tied up with string, these are a few of my favorite things.  You can’t help but see these things in your mind as you sing the words and as you do, your mood will lift, maybe only little at a time, but it will lift.

To both both those who suffer from depression and to those who know someone and want to help I want to leave you with this quote from Charles Dickens from his book Doctor Margold, “No one is useless in this world who lightens the burden of another.”  For you who are hurting think of times, you have helped anyone.  You’re not useless.  If you can’t think of anyone go out and help somebody get out of your head and meet another’s need and you will feel better about yourself.  For those of you who are helping someone who is hurting emotionally, you have tremendous value and it is my hope that God blesses you for your kindness.

Why Culture POPS for Me

I have been in love with pop culture for as long back as I can remember.  I guess that it started with the Batman TV series which began its run in 1966.  Even before that, I loved Lucy and Jack Benny.  I grew up watching cartoons that are now forgotten Beanie and Cecil, Tobar the 8th Man, Rocket Robin Hood, and Marine Boy.  All of these fascinated me and I continually wanted more.

After a certain age, I became a walking TV guide.  I knew everything that was on and whether it was worth watching or not.  In the first grade, I fell in love with comic books, and many nights my collection of comics sat next to me in my corner of the sofa while I watched TV.

My mother loved musicals and so I was thrust into the worlds of Rodgers and Hammerstein and Lerner and Loew and many others.  While reading comics I found that the characters would quote old movies or books and so slowly I began to watch old films as they showed up in the TV listings.  This was years before you could record or stream anything so if it was on that was the only chance to watch it.

I also began to read.  My mother read to me as a child.  Before bed, she read me all kinds of things until I was old enough to read for myself.  As I stated before comic book characters would quote books and I wanted to know what the quotes meant and where they came from.  I developed an early interest in Shakespeare, Greek myth, and Arthurian Legends.

I was reading well above my grade level even though you couldn’t tell that from my grades.  I began to blossom as a student when the emphasis was changed from grammar to reading classic literature.  It was then I could shine.

I don’t know what draws me to pop culture, both past, and present.  I  have written on it extensively.  Book reviews, movie reviews, and history.  In fact a couple of years ago I wrote a fascinating story about a forgotten show called The Goldbergs.  Not the new one but the show that was on the airwaves from 1929 until the 1950s.  The show was a radio show, a tv show, a play, a movie, and a musical.  And every script was written by the same woman Gertrude Berg.  She was pretty interesting too.  You can read her story here, https://pcmworldnews.com/news/2021/01/the-goldbergs-debuts-on-television-january-1949-2/.

I like to list all I could about my love of pop culture.  If you walked into my apartment you would be greeted by a bookshelf filled with books on show business of one kind or another.  The shelf is decorated with pop culture icons of the Golden age and the present age action figure of Green Lantern and The Flash.  Going further in you would find sculptures of the main characters from Kenneth Graham’s The Wind in the Willows.  Looking up you’d find peaking out of teacup Jacque and Gus the two mice from Disney’s animated Cinderella.  In my office, there is a replica of Sleeping Beauty Castle from Disneyland and it is surrounded by every character you could ever hope to meet in that place.  Even on my desk, staring at me is a small animatronic Yoda that talks when I push a button.  A small Starship Enterprise also sits on my desk right next to a Tardis from Doctor Who.  On my walls are movie posters, an authentic replica of Bilbo’s and Frodo’s sword sting along with a map of Middle Earth.  In the hallway, one wall is devoted to a map of The Magic Kingdom and the other is displayed all of the celebrity autographed photos I have collected over the years.

I have a Mickey Mouse wall clock, a Superman wall clock and on other shelves, I have a set of action figures that are the great authors including Edgar Allan Poe and Charles Dickens.  In my bedroom, there is a collection of 7-inch vinyl figures that depict most of the Justice League of America.

And that is truly only a partial run down.  Most of this stuff will mean little to those I leave behind but it does give great joy to me.  I think that is what pop culture is.  Pop culture is a bringer of joy.

Most of pop culture starts with a story.  The Greek and Norse myths as well as Arthurian legends are all stories most of which were handed down verbally until someone decided to write them down.  We wouldn’t have Grimms Fairy Tales if the two brothers didn’t travel extensively in Germany collecting the folk tales that were there.  In many ways that is the whole of pop culture.  It is the handing down of stories from one generation to the next.

The first question I have about my definition is what about music or poetry?  They are part of pop culture too.  In many ways, songs and poems and paintings and sculptures all tell stories or they are part of a story.  So they fit in the definition.

That brings me back to us.  What draws us to the movies, to TV shows and novels, and all the rest?  What draws us to stories?

The answer is simple.  We are also all stories.  Every event in our lives is a story and every moment of our lives makes up our story which is intermingled with all the other stories of the people we know.  Whether they are family or friends or even enemies we are part of their stories and they are a part of ours.

Then there is the big story.  Shakespeare said, “All the world’s a stage and we are but players on it.”  Shakespeare was absolutely correct.  We are all part of the biggest story ever written and it begins; “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”

That statement is the beginning of all the great stories that ever happened or that ever will happen.  In some sense, it is a myth but unlike the myths of the Greeks or the Norsemen, this myth is true.  It doesn’t matter whether you believe in the big bang theory or not God,  in the beginning, created the heavens and the earth.

What does this mean for us?  It means that we are part of God’s story that we were meant to be here and that all of our lives have meaning even if we don’t see it.  It is for this reason that we go-to stories.  That we go to pop culture.  We go to these to find the meaning to our own lives and that meaning is in those stories.  I didn’t realize that The Lord of the Rings could speak to addicts until I did some digging and found that Frodo and Gollum’s passion for the ring ate away at their wills until it possessed them the way an addiction possess the addict.  Scrooge’s adventures with the three ghosts of Christmas is a mini version of therapy where you look at the past and the present to try and change the future.  The Wind in the Willows teaches us the need for solid friendships and The Secret Garden is a story that makes it clear that hard work, a solid spiritual life, and good eating cab restore health to both mind and body.

I could go on and on.  Batman is an example of the unlimited potential in every human being. Superman says it best in his slogan he is the embodiment of truth, justice, and the American way even if the American way is under scrutiny at this moment.  Our stories, our myths, our pop culture is what makes us who we are and helps us find who we can be.

CS Lewis was an unbeliever until one fateful day he was having a discussion with his friend JRR Tolkien and another and in that discussion, Tolkien pointed out that Lewis loved the old stories the myths of the ancients but he said that The Gospel was a myth too.  Only it was the one true myth.  The one true story, the one true part of pop culture or any culture that makes sense of all the rest.

If you don’t know who CS Lewis is…well, that’s another story.

To Everything, There is a Season

Solomon says in the Book of Ecclesiastes “To everything, there is a season and a time to every purpose under Heaven.  Charles Dickens wrote in A Tale of Two Cities, “It was the best of times and it was the worst of times.”  Stephen Sondheim wrote in Merrily We Roll Along, “It’s our time breathe it in worlds to change and worlds to win.”  And I am writing today it is my time.

After writing last week’s blog about letting go of people in my life who had become toxic for me I felt a new freedom.  The freedom to relax and be me but also to get on with life.  It has been said that the unexamined life is not worth living.  While I was feeling the need to constantly ask forgiveness from three people that had stopped caring about me, I was examining my life through their lens.  Seeing me as I thought they were seeing me trying to live up to something that didn’t exist.  After breaking free of that bondage, and bondage it was, I was able to see myself more clearly with a better lens and make the corrections in my life that needed attention.

And I did that.  I started going back to meetings that I had been neglecting.  I made phone calls to people whom I hadn’t been talking to but should have.  These folks encourage me and I can encourage them.  It becomes a give and receive, relationship as all relationships should be.  If you are in a relationship where you are always giving or are always receiving it’s probably an unhealthy relationship.

I have had a more peaceful life.  It’s amazing how much you calm down when you stop worrying about what someone else is thinking about you.  It’s good to feel calm.  I have also been able to read and concentrate on my reading.  Reading has become joyful again.  My spirit is lighter and I am smiling more.  I am in a much better place than I have been.

That’s not to say that I don’t have issues that need to be dealt with.  I saw my doctor today and he is sending me to another specialist to deal with my foot.  I fractured several of the bones in my foot back in April and though the bones healed the pain and swelling have not gone down.  It’s very difficult to walk but I do what I can.  Going to the market has been an achievement but I do it when I have to do. 

The saga with my ears continues and I need to see two doctors about that.  An ear doctor and neurologist.  All of the appointments are made.  I don’t know if I have written about my ear in this blog.  Let me get you up to date.  My ear has been leaking fluid for about four years.  The big question is what the fluid is.  The infectious disease doctor thought it was an ear infection and what was leaking out was a byproduct of the infection.  A doctor whose title I can’t spell but we’ll call him a super Ear Nose and Throat doctor thinks that what’s coming out of my ear is spinal fluid.  This guy tested the fluid in my ear and the test came back inconclusive.  He wants to do a radical surgery on me where he will cut a hole in my skull and dig down to where he believes there is a crack in my skull and patch the crack up.  Needless to say with a test that has come back inconclusive I do not want this surgery done.  I have been dodging seeing him until I can get another doctor to run the test on the fluid.

So as you can see life isn’t easy but it does have its moments of joy.  These come from friends that visit me or unexpected phone calls.  These come from the things that delight me like the latest Spiderman movie which was awesome or finding some of my favorite TV shows from the past are available to watch for free on YouTube.  These shows include Here Comes the Brides and The Ghost and Mrs. Muir.

Joy comes unexpectedly and it really should.  If we were full of joy all the time how could we possibly know what Joy is?  There will always be sorrow and sadness in our lives.  It’s been that way since Adam and Eve left The Garden, but if any of us only experience sorrow and sadness we will go mad.  We’d have to.  Or we would become angry and bitter a true Scrooge as Dickens describes him at the beginning of A Christmas Carol.

So when joy comes we take it to heart and remember it.  Our joy whatever it is will get us through the tough times if we remember it.  So write down what brings joy to you.  Journal your joy moments so when things do get black you can look back and maybe smile through the hardship.  Auntie Mame says, “Life is Banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death.”  Eat the banquet that is in front of you.  Auntie Mame echoes Jesus who said, “A thief is only there to steal, kill, and destroy.  I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better than they ever dreamed of” (John 10:10 The Message Version)

And now an announcement that I was to make last week but had to put off because my doctor had to cancel my appointment due to Covid in his office.  I can make it now.  Since starting my new eating regimen on December 6, 2021, I have lost, drum roll please, 22 pounds.  What I am doing is indeed working and I intend to stick with the program.  A big thank you to everyone who has encouraged me.

Until next time may God bless you all.

And The Changes Continue…

The last two years have been rough on all of us.  I don’t think anyone in this country has not been affected by the Covid 19 virus.  It caused the deaths of loved ones and it has also caused those we love to separate from us.  This has been the hardest part for me.

Politically I am neither a full-fledged republican nor a full-fledged democrat.  Both parties have a lot to offer that this country needs right now and yet instead of seeking a balance we keep going from one extreme to the other.  Heaven help us all!

This blog is not about politics.  I hope it never will be.  This blog is about loss and change.  The first friend I lost was not even over an argument.  I corrected a post he put up on Facebook in the comments.  The post was political and inaccurate.  It doesn’t matter what the issue was.  He got mad at me for pointing out what was wrong and stopped speaking to me.  The second friend I lost I have known for over 40 years.  He texted me early one morning telling me of a situation he was in.  He felt threatened.  I offered the best advice I could at that hour and the texts kept coming.  Eventually, he told me he didn’t like what he was hearing from me and he too cut me off.  I got angry at this and probably sent a text or two I shouldn’t have.  The third friend just stopped talking to me for no reason whatsoever. He just stopped returning my calls.  He was a mentor to me and I relied on his wisdom for many years and now he is just gone.

Now, after all of this happened I did everything in my power to win these three back.  I asked forgiveness, sent ecards on holidays, left messages asking how I could make this right or how I could be forgiven.  I got stone silence.  It began to make me sick as I kept going around and around in my head about how I could make things right.  Everything I tried failed.  And the silence continues.

I was doing the same thing over and over again hoping for a different result and that is one of the definitions of insanity.  I was making myself insane trying to win back the friendship from three people who didn’t want me back.  They had control over me as long as I continued to beg for their forgiveness.  Something had to break and it did.

I finally realized that these guys were renting space in my head.  Space they had no business being in.  I called on a good friend who talked with me for a long time.  He asked me very direct questions if I was angry or bitter towards these three men and I’m not.  I’m hurt but I can honestly say that  I would welcome them back if they reached out to me but it is time for me to stop reaching out to them.  And I have.

The freedom of letting these three men go is amazing.  I feel better about myself and my life.  I no longer feel guilty about the situation because I know I have done everything I can to make it right.  The ball is in their court.  All three of these men are Christians I am looking forward to the day we reunite in heaven and can talk these things out and forgive each other there.  If it happens here all the better but I know it will happen one day.

This marks the end of the first month of my efforts to try and lose weight.  I will reveal at the end of this blog how many pounds I have lost.  I truly hope I lost something.

Starting a diet at the beginning of December may not have been the wisest course.  December has more food traps than any other month of the year.  I was able to maneuver through most of them.  I didn’t say no to all treats but I cut back and ate less of my favorites than any other year.  In the past, I would have gained a pound or five over the holidays.  This Christmas I think I lost.

One thing that stands out is I got in the car the other day and found it very easy to get my seatbelt buckled.  This has been difficult for quite a while now and yesterday it clicked with little to no effort so weight must be coming off or at least inches.  I’ll know for sure on Tuesday when I go see my doctor.  I have not weighed myself at home at all, only there.  When I see what his scale says I’ll come home and calibrate my scale here so I can weigh more often.

The original diet plan was to have two Slimfast shakes and a piece of fruit a day.  One of each for breakfast and one of each for lunch.  I found early on that I didn’t get hungry at lunchtime and so began skipping the second shake and fruit.  I seem to get hungry at about four PM and so I just plan dinner for five.  Sometimes I feel like my blood sugar may be dropping in the afternoon.  At those times I will eat a healthy snack.  My sister sent several bags of roasted and shelled chestnuts.  I love those and they are a good form of protein.  The whole bag is only 200 calories.

Dinner is for the most part meat, potato, and a vegetable.  Sometimes with a little sweet treat.  Last night I had eggplant parmesan and a nice multigrain roll with Land O Lakes butter mixed with olive oil.  All I drink anymore is water.  I have had some juice in small amounts on occasion but it has mostly been water.

Before the beginning of December, I lived at Fast Food Restaurants.  I love McDonald’s and a standard order would have been two triple cheeseburgers a medium fries, a Hi C Orange Lava Burst, and two apple pies.  I would have this several times a week.  I also frequented Arby’s, Burger King, Popeye’s, Taco Bell, Kentucky Fried, and Wendy’s. Some days I would get breakfast lunch and dinner from these places.  I craved it.  I even felt I needed it but I was wrong.

Since December 6th I have not been in a Fastfood restaurant or used the drive-thru. The closest I got was a small popcorn at the movie theater when I went to see Spiderman No Way Home.  I figured going to the movies is not a regular habit for me so I could treat myself there.

Today is Sunday and as most of you know I publish on Wednesday morning.  I will finish this blog up when I return from the doctor on Tuesday.

It’s now Monday and my doctor’s office just called.  It seems there has been an outbreak of Covid amongst the staff and my appointment has been moved to next Tuesday so the weigh-in is postponed another week.  Seems like Covid is again changing our lives as I also heard at least one college is going back to Zoom classes when the semester starts and one community theater just shortened its schedule by eliminating two shows.  I find it inspiring that people are taking the correct precautions now.  No matter what life will go on and one day we will be out of this mess.

Epiphany

The Feast of the Epiphany is traditionally celebrated on January sixth.  This celebration marks the visit of the magi to see Jesus and worship him as the newborn King of the Jews.  It is the end of the Christmas holidays as they used to be celebrated and in my own opinion should still be celebrated.  Put the tree up later bake some treats after Christmas, maybe even save some gifts for this particular feast.  Remember this celebrates the first people outside of Mary, Joseph, and some shepherds who knew who Jesus was.

I often wondered what the word epiphany means.  I had never really heard the word used outside the context of the holy day.  Epiphany means a manifestation of a divine or supernatural being.  In this case, the birth of Christ is revealed to the whole world the Jewish people being represented by the Shepherds and the gentile world is represented by the magi.

Matthew’s Gospel is the only Gospel that tells of the visit of the kings and you can read it there.  Time and tradition have embellished the story what we do know for sure is the Magi came from the east following a star.  The star disappeared as they approached Jerusalem and they went to King Herod who ascertained from the scriptures where the child would be born and sent the magi on their way telling them to come back and report to him when they had found the child so that he could worship him as well.  Herod was deceiving the Magi as he desired to kill the child.  As the Magi left Jerusalem the star reappeared and led them to a house where they found the baby and his mother Mary and presented gifts of Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh.  They were warned in a dream not to go back to Herod and returned to their homes using a different route.

That’s what we know.  Here is what we have embellished.  It was at some time decided that there were three of them.  That they were not only Magi but Kings and that their names were Caspar, Melchior, and Belshazzar.  Also, that each was of a different race.  One white, one Asian, and One Black.

The Feast of Epiphany is also the twelfth day of Christmas as you may remember from the song the gift was twelve drummers drumming.  These twelve drummers are meant to represent points of belief in The Apostles Creed.

The Feast of the Epiphany is also known as 12th Night and it is the last day of Christmas.  There used to be 12th Night parties where games like Snapdragon were played.  I have always wanted to try to play Snapdragon.  The game is mentioned in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and also in Agatha Christie’s Halloween Party.  The game is pretty simple.  You get a big plate full of raisins you douse the raisins with plenty of brandy and light it on fire.  You then try to pick raisins out of the blazing plate without getting burned.  And yes this was a children’s game.

There is also a 12the Night Cake.  It is made from Puff Pastry and filled with almond crème.  In the cake is placed a ring or a tiny baby representing Jesus.  Whoever gets the slice of cake with the ring or the baby gets declared King of the Feast and is given a crown to wear.

Of course, all of this is gone now.  The Catholic Church has moved the Feast of Epiphany to the Sunday after Christmas and not many protestant churches recognize it at all, at least not in the United States.  And yet we sing about it.  We Three Kings is the song of the magi.  It’s not a Christmas Carol but a 12th night song.  And The Little Drummer boy which is completely fictitious is also a staple throughout the Christmas season but is never heard after Christmas as it should be.

Some biblical historians believe that the magi arrived about two years after Jesus’ birth.  There is some logic behind this.  The scriptures tell us that the Magi found the child in a house which means they had moved out of the stable where Jesus was born.  Herod asked the Magi when the star appeared and when he realized that the Magi were not coming back to him had all the babies two years and younger killed in Bethlehem.  This is known as The Slaughter of the Innocents and is the basis for another Christmas carol The Coventry Carol.  It is thought that the star appeared on the night of Jesus’ birth and it took two years for the Magi to reach him.

I am of the school of thought that says we go back to the old ways.  Let’s celebrate all 12 days of Christmas.  Let’s not set up our trees right after Thanksgiving but just a day or two before December 25th.  Let’s have parties and gatherings straight through until  January the sixth and have one last fling that night before we enter into our dull winter routines.  Christmas could be more fun that way and maybe even less stressful.  We could have dinner parties for twelve nights straight and see all of our family members.  Those twelve days, if observed could bring a whole new dimension to Christmas.

On January the sixth let’s take a moment to remember what the word epiphany means. >The manifestation of a divine being”.  It is acknowledging to the world that we believe Jesus was fully God and fully man as the scriptures attest to.  In many ways, it is an act of faith to celebrate this day and one I believe we can all profit from.

It is said that two groups of people were allowed to see the baby Jesus those who knew they knew nothing, the shepherds and those who knew they didn’t know everything, the magi.

2022 Is Here! What Will You Do?

Ok, let’s get this out of the way.  I am not fond of the celebration of the New Year.  I kind of feel like it is a bit of a cheat.  It seems to be a day where we are offered a new start where all the bad things disappear, and all good things take their place.  That is just not the case.  When you get up on January first the same issues in your life are right there staring you in the face and no amount of toasting in the New Year will solve those issues.

Now I know this is just me, or maybe not.  There are probably a few people who agree with me, but the majority are sure New Year believers and maybe they have a point.

New Year is a time of renewal in many areas of our lives.  A time to evaluate where we are and correct the course is necessary, To do this though you must do a deep self-examination and this is hard to do because it means being brutally honest about all areas of your life.

For instance, let’s use me as an example.  I admitted to myself a couple of months ago that I am overweight, grossly overweight and if I didn’t do something about it I would probably die much sooner than the rest of my family who weighs in the right range.  I told myself to look around, there are no old fat people.  And as far as I know, there are none.  I have been obese for years and the medical community didn’t warn me of the dangers, in fact, most of my docs avoided discussing the matter until I said, “Im fat and something has to be done.”  Then they could speak.

I believe one of the reasons the docs are afraid to talk about weight issues is because of this new thing called fat shaming.  Now while I totally agree that kids on the playground should not insult the fat kid, I disagree that once you have grown up and someone mentions your weight you should be happy someone cares enough about you to say something.  To tell heavyset, obese, or fat people to feel good about themselves and to be proud of who they are physically is just plain stupid.  I’m going to be quite clear.  I’m ashamed of myself for letting things go this far. I’m uncomfortable in movie and theater seats.  I don’t like the way I look and I know I am damaging my body by being this size.

This is a brutal self-examination but it is necessary if there is to be change.

We cannot live in a world where change is scorned or where people fear it.  We did, in Europe for many years and that time in history is called The Dark Ages.  Nothing changed during those terrible years but when they ended people began to think and thinking both good and bad is what brought us where we are today.

You can have Dark Ages ib your own life.  That time when you see yourself as perfect when you are far from it.  All the years I denied I was gaining weight were my own Dark Ages and it has led me to where I am now.

It’s not just the weight and how I look.  It’s getting out of breath while carrying something.  It’s feeling my heart race when all I’ve done is walk across the room.  Being short of breath from doing the simplest of tasks and having my feet and legs hurt all the more because of the weight I carry.

That exams my physical body and assesses the problem fairly well.  Now, what’s to be done about it.  I have already begun a program of weight loss.  With my doctor’s approval, I am doing Slimfast for two meals and a sensible dinner.  The reality of that plan is my morning Slimfast shake with an apple and 16 ounces of water lasts me till around four o’clock so for the most part I don’t use the second shake.  I know my stomach, at least, has shrunk as I can only eat a much smaller amount at dinner than I used to.

After a physical assessment is done a mental assessment must also be done.  My mental and emotional state, in general, is better than it was before.  I still need therapy and appropriate medication but in many ways, I am a much calmer person than I used to be.  I can be honest with myself, I no longer rely on comfort food to help me get thru rough patches and other negative behaviors have become much more under my control. My emotions are no longer controlling me as much as I realize that emotions are first response tools.  You have to be careful to digest a first response and think about it before acting on it.  If I get bad news, for example, my first response would be to eat something to make me feel better about the bad news.  I can’t do that.  First response emotions will die down and go away after a while especially if you use your brain to think through your response.  If we respond to anything in anger or fear it is pretty much assured we will regret what we have done.

Now I think more before I react.  First thoughts may be McDonald’s will not solve my problem.  Second and third thoughts could well be the solution to those problems.  Self-control is the beginning of learning how to deal with emotions.  If you have strong emotional reactions to anything, given time, rational thought will calm those emotions down.

We are made in three parts, The Physical, The Mental and The Spiritual.  Many people regard the spiritual as unimportant or attached to emotions.  It is not.  For me, the spiritual parts of us are about our relationship with God and his with us.  I am a Christian and I believe that Jesus was born of a virgin, as an adult lived a sinless life and taught the precepts of the Kingdom of God.  At the age of 33, he was crucified for what he taught but on the third day, he rose again from the dead.  He was seen by many and ministered another 40 days here on Earth before he was bodily taken up to heaven.  I believe that if you believe all of what I have just written and believe that Jesus is Lord you have a place in eternity with Him.  Repeating that is a way to decide how much work my spiritual life has to go.

This year I’m good.  However, Jesus taught us that we should be good to the poor and the suffering.  This year my question must be what I’m doing to follow my Lord in that area and the answer must be not much.  And I’m not sure where I should start.  My physical issues are many and my resources are tight and yet Charles Dickens wrote in A Christmas Carol “Any Christian working in his little sphere will not have time enough, in this life to complete all he can do.”  I paraphrased that but the answer I seek is what can I do?  Hopefully and humbly in future blogs, you will read the answers I found on how to help.

New Year’s may not, in reality, be a new beginning.  But it can be a renewal.  Get past the parties and the cork popping and really dig into who you are and who you want to be in the coming year and you find yourself on the greatest adventure anyone can take, the adventure of conquering yourself.

God bless you dear reader and Happy New Year.

Christmas 2021

I am not a poet.  As I assume all writers do I dabbled in poetry.  I went into fields and climbed trees and looked for inspiration in all the usual places I imagined poets would
go to find their muse.  I never found mine except once.

It was 1979 not long before Christmas when I realized I had no money to give my folks a Christmas gift that year.  It was my first semester in college and as all college students are, I was broke.  I thought and thought and slowly an idea came to mind.  I would write a poem.  Initially I must have thought it would be a Christmas poem, but it turned into something slightly more elaborate.  I wrote the poem, bought some poster board and hand printed it out with some small amount of artwork for the borders.  I was no great poet, but I was and am an even worse artist.  Still, it was a heartfelt gift and I present it to you now as I presented it to my parents as a Christmas gift.

Jesus

They say he was born in Beth’lem town,

And on that night there was the sound,

Of trumpets from the heavenly host,

And in all this the saints would boast.

He grew up alongside men,

Who in their sight he would begin,

A ministry of peace and light,

And leading people toward the right.

For three short years he labored strong,

And taught the people to go along,

A path of wisdom both just and bright,

To walk not in darkness but in light.

The leaders feared what this man taught,

And in their fear a man they bought,

A follower to betray the lord,

For they knew he feared no earthly sword.

They hung him on a wooden cross,

And men believed that they had lost,

A friend much closer than a brother,

Their only friend man had no other.

He died upon that cross so high,

And they placed him in a tomb nearby,

They placed him there while women moaned,

Then covered the entrance with a stone.

For three long days he lay there dead,

The world lost hope and all men said,

That he was good and just and wise,

But like all men he had to die.

But on the third day God shook the earth,

And when the stone rolled from its berth,

He rose again then into life,

And took away all pain and strife.

The world for long awaited this,

For this man he brought a gift,

Of everlasting life for us,

If in Him we put our trust.

As I have stated in other places you can’t have Christmas without Easter.  If Easter did not happen then there would be no reason to celebrate the birth of Christ.  We would still be partying in one way or another.  After all, Christmas did replace the roman feast of Saturnalia.  And that feast had parties and bringing in the green form outside, as well as gift giving.  But the church, as her job, redeemed the pagan holiday and its customs and turned it into one of the most beautiful times of the year. It makes us know that we are loved and somehow instils in us the need to love and help others.  As Dickens wrote it is “a time when want is keenly felt and abundance rejoices.”

Dickens further writes in A Christmas Carol.

“I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come around, apart from it’s sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it could be apart from that, as a good time, a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time.  The only time in the whole calendar of the year when and women, seem by one consent, to open their shut-up hearts freely and to think of people below them as fellow passengers to the grave and not another race of creature bound on other journeys.  And therefore, uncle though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe it has done me good and will do me good and so I say God Bless it.”

This was speech given to Scrooge by his nephew in A Christmas Carol.  Very few stage or screen productions ever let the actor have the whole speech but in those words is the true meaning and heart of Christmas.

Earlier this week a fellow Christmas Carol fan, Michael Castellano wrote a poem that embodies the whole story of A Christmas Carol.  He did this all-in-one day and I think it’s pure genius.  With his permission I present it to you now.

My Carol

A chill to my Christmas

with harsh blowing winds,

I’m mean and I’m ornery

when my story begins.

My hearts made of stone

I may never reform,

and to be quite honest

I should have never been born.

Money and power is all that I crave

and my earthly delights,

will end soon

at the grave.

Bah Humbug to Christmas

with its tinsels and lights,

my hatred is strong

where others delight.

my partner in life

has returned from the grave,

“I’ve come here to assist you

your soul I’ll help save.”

You’ll be visited by three spirits

you’ve nothing to dread

they’ll take you on journeys

from the foot of your bed.

The first spirit came

with a bright shining light,

to show me my past

on this cold winters night.

We visited scenes

from my boyhood at school,

where I sat all alone

with a spoon and some gruel.

Then on to the Fezzywigs’

with their great Christmas fete,

with plenty to drink

and abundance to eat.

The love of my life

my very own Belle,

she had me entranced

I fell under her spell.

But greed overtook me

I lost at loves game,

now everything’s different

and nothings the same.

The spirit soon left me

as the city clock struck two,

where I met a gentle giant

who sipped a strange brew.

” Come know me better!”

he said with a laugh,

a crown of live holly

adorned his large staff.

with a touch of his robe

such a soft gentle touch,

we flew over mountains

to a boy with a crutch.

He showed me my life

and my cold frozen heart,

although I saw much

it was only a start.

The giant soon left me

at the end of his haunt,

but inside his robe

I saw ignorance and want.

The last of the spirits

appeared from the mist

a silent spirit

my life to assist.

He showed me my future

my life at its end,

he scared me this spirit

but he was truly a friend.

My name on the grave

I was truly alone,

“I’ll change” I cried

please don;t leave me alone.

Now I’m a new man

the old man is dead,

I’ll help Mr Cratchit

and a visit to Fred.

I’ve finished my story

I’m finally done,

so Merry Christmas to all

and God Bless Us Everyone.

If you have no time to read A Christmas Carol or watch one of the film adaptations, you at least have this poem.

One more note about A Christmas Carol.  I have a tradition of reading the book every year.  I start at night on the 21st reading the First Stave Dickens uses the word Stave instead of Chapter in his book as it is a musical term meaning the verse of a song.  For the next three nights, I read a single Stave usually right before bed.  On the 25th Christmas morning I read The Final Stave entitled The End of It and live with Scrooge all the joy he found that Christmas morning.  For me, it’s a meaningful and touching way to read the classic.  It’s also something a family could do together.

One last thought before leaving you.  Several years ago I was working in dialysis at a local hospital and one of the docs gave me and the rest of the unit employees a little card with a free verse poem on it.  It was beautiful and very timely, and it is a reminder that the celebration of Christmas is only the beginning.  That little card did not have the author’s name, but I found that out recently and I present the poem to you as a last gift of Christmas.

The Work of Christmas

When the star is the sky is gone,

When the song of the angels is stilled,

When the kings and princes are home,

When the shepherds are back with their flocks,

The work of Christmas Begins:

To find the lost,

To heal the broken,

To feed the hungry,

To release the prisoner,

To rebuild the nations,

To bring peace among the people,

To make music in the heart.

  • Howard Thurman