I read today that the Christmas shopping season was off. The writer, or his sources, blamed Sandy: Hurricane Sandy and Sandy Hook. Retailers said that shoppers weren’t very jolly. They were serious or worried or distracted. Hurried, as if they didn’t want to be out too long.
I thought of my parents and others at the Christmas of 1941. Americans had endured a decade of economic depression that the planners were impotent to correct. After the years of privation, then, Japan attacked the US at Pearl Harbor and, then, the Philippines. Congress had approved a unanimous declaration of war. The young men who’d been deprived the childhood their parents’ planned for them would also be deprived young adulthood, limbs, and life.
Of course, in 1941, we didn’t have as much time to worry about ourselves as we do today. There was life to get on with. People certainly worried, but did it ruin their Christmas? Here’s what Winston Churchill told us on Christmas Eve, even as London was in the midst of the bombing:
This is a strange Christmas Eve. Almost the whole world is locked in deadly struggle, and, with the most terrible weapons which science can devise, the nations advance upon each other. Let the children have their night of fun and laughter. Let the gifts of Father Christmas delight their play. Let us grown-ups share to the full in their unstinted pleasures before we turn again to the stern task and formidable years that lie before us, resolved that, by our sacrifice and daring, these same children shall not be robbed of their inheritance or denied their right to live in a free and decent world.
When was the last time you heard a “leader” speak of daring?
The victims of Sandy and the survivors of Sandy Hook feel no less sorrow today than did the families of Americans killed at Pearl Harbor or the survivors of Hitler’s heinous, relentless bombing of London. They deserve our respect and prayers and help as much as our ancestors of 1941. Their sorrows are real and pitiable. Their losses painful to everyone with a heart and soul.
Yet, today, it seems, we give ourselves and our society permission to wallow and gnash our teeth. We don’t dare to live. We seek “solutions” to insanity—solutions that deprive the sane their freedom. I fear that we would meet the next Hitler or Hirohito, not with resistance or appeasement, but with assistance. Civilization today seems unwilling to accept tension and suffering, as if our birthright denies their existence.
But that’s foolish. God became flesh and walked among us, not to eliminate tension and suffering, but become the poster-child of them. His birth at Bethlehem was the beginning of His march to the cross, not the end of human suffering.
Victor Frankl reminds us that “Dostoevski [sic] said once: “There is only one thing that I dread: not to be worthy of my sufferings.” Dostoyevsky’s words should serve as a warning to us all: if we succeed in eliminating suffering, we will have also succeed in becoming worthless.
Living in the horrors of a Nazi prison camp, Frankl and his fellows found moments of joy and insight. Weighing half his former weight, living daily on a few ounces of bread and a small cup of watery soup, using his surgeon’s hands to dig water pipe ditches in the frozen dirt surrounding the Auschwitz death camp, Frankl received this revelation:
The salvation of man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved.
That passage struck home with me. I’ve been a rude husband and thoughtless, absent, distracted father. I’ve been a bad friend. I am not “above” the weaknesses of our civilization. I, too, ignored much of Advent. I, too, worried more about avoiding sufferings than about living the life Christ died that I might know. I, too, failed to appreciate the joy of suffering, the humanity of pain, and the necessity of tension.
But I have 24 hours to do something about it. The stores are closed. The presents bought—or not. Doesn’t matter. I am here.
My weak Christmas pledge: I will try, for the next 24 hours, to live up to Victor Frankl’s imperative: “Live as if you were living already for the second time and as if you had acted the first time as wrongly as you are about to act now!”
Isn’t that the plot of It’s A Wonderful Life?
Merry Christmas my love, Angela, Amie, Jack, Ben, Samantha, Patrick, and Jordan.
Merry Christmas Mom and Dad, Tee and Sue, Mickey, Scotty, Hank and John, JoAnn, Virginia and Carrie.
Merry Christmas Carol and Bill.
Merry Christmas Michelle and Ben.
Merry Christmas you wonderful old Building and Loan!
Merry Christmas to all who’ve reminded me tonight that joy is in me all the time if I’d only get over myself and let it work.
Merry Christmas to you. God bless you.