Storytime #1: The Bird and the Christmas Tree

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We’re almost out of 2014; whether that’s a good or a bad thing is up to you. But the end is coming. And as we waste our hours until tomorrow night looking at articles like “2014’s Top Ten Pictures of Koalas wearing Funny Hats” (someone please write that for me), I’d like to divert your attention to something with a little more meat. Something that I can’t believe I haven’t done yet this year.

I started out as a fiction writer. In third grade, I wrote a short story about puppies. I can’t remember the plot for the life of me, but I do remember that they were attacked by an out-of-control model airplane and that one of them was named Spyro (I was an awesome eight-year-old). My first book came in fifth grade: a forty-page thing about a pilot with a talking dog that fought giant chipmunks and befriended super-intelligent toddlers.

It’s fun to write fiction, but it doesn’t take a lot to know that it’s hard to pay the bills as a fiction writer. So I don’t think it’s my calling. But it’s fun, and as it’s Christmastime I’m going to have fun.

I wrote this little half-thing after a scary experience on Christmas Eve night, when we were graced with an unexpected visitor. I present to you, for your possible pleasure, The Bird and the Christmas Tree:

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Wedding Bells, Love, and Indescribable Joy

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There are many kinds of happiness. There’s the happiness that comes with success—the feeling of accomplishment. There’s the feeling that comes after receiving a gift. There’s a high that comes from a night out with friends. Good books, TV shows and music create another kind of happiness. As does service.

But there are three kinds of happiness that are superior to all others. The first is the peace found in religion. The second is the indescribable feeling someone has when they’ve met their spouse, their companion, their partner in life and death. And the third is the happiness you feel when watching someone you love very much experience pure joy.

Yesterday, I had the incredible pleasure of watching Melanie Wilhelm and Scott Wood celebrate their marriage. I don’t think I’ve ever been happier in my life.

Melanie is hands-down the kindest, most considerate person I’ve ever met. If her soul were a color, it would be the pure white of a person who lives her life for others. She is always there with an open heart and an open mind. I can’t be unhappy around her. And I know where she gets it from; she has a wonderful family, with sisters and parents who have acted as beacons of light to me for years.

I do not know Scott that well; like most people on this side of the country, I only actually met him a week ago. But I don’t need to interrogate him to know that he is a good man with a good heart.

We all know people like this. We all have those friends that are so perfect, for lack of better term. You love them so much and you don’t ever feel like you deserve to be in their presence. And to see them so gloriously happy, married in the eyes of God and the community, is something that puts a light in your soul. The sparkle in their eyes as they look at the one they love is bright enough to break any darkness.

Cherish your friends. Be there for the bad times, because they need you. But be there for the happy times, too. It’s a feeling of ecstasy more powerful than anything you could do for yourself. Rejoice in their happiness.

Mel, I love you more than I know how to put into words. Scott, I look forward to getting to know you and I’m sure I’ll love you just as much. Congratulations and best wishes. Look to God for guidance and put Him first; lean on each other; and know that I—and a whole bunch of people that love you just as much—are always here for you.

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Christmas Is Still Here, Everybody

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8 AM on December 25 and the same time on December 26 are so different, you’d think we moved to another planet overnight. Santa won’t come again for another year, and there will be no massive gift exchange today. Christmas Mass is over. Relatives are starting to head out. You’ll wake up this morning with a massive headache and wonder if it was a good idea to eat twenty Hershey kisses before bed. (“They’re little, so it won’t matter…”) Some people have to go back to work today — the sound of that alarm is the worst thing I’ve heard all week. Things, for lack of better term, go back to normal.

Yes, the 25th of December is gone, and it won’t be back for another 364 days and nights. But christmas isn’t over, guys. Not by a long shot.

For one, we have something of a four-day weekend of Christmas events. There are still shows and parties all through the end of the year. Many families won’t even get together until this weekend, when people are off of work long enough to travel. And in an effort to make it to New Year’s Eve, AKA the night on which to make bad decisions, someone will host a party this weekend and still call it Christmas themed.

But more importantly, Christmas itself isn’t going anywhere. Christmas, as it is so often said, is nothing more than a frame of mind. That sense of humanity and festivity that we get, however briefly, can be extended. We don’t have to start hating each other just because of the date on the calendar.

Don’t spend your entire life savings on presents, but don’t be a grumpy, worldly guy that only tries to be a decent person on Christmas. Don’t think that charities will stop collecting donations just because Santa came around. People still need help in this world; if you missed the chance to serve Christmas dinner at a shelter or buy a less fortunate kid a present, do those things anyway. People still eat and kids still like presents.

Most importantly, for those of us that regard the 25th of December as a holy day, don’t forget that our joy is not limited to a calendar day. We can still rejoice in the fact that the Son of God, the Prince of Peace, the beacon of hope and miracle that guides our lives, was born. The fact that He was born at all is worth celebrating all year round. The Angles may have said the first Noel, but we have free rein to say it whenever we want now. The King of Israel came to Earth in a body of flesh and blood. That’s a pretty big deal.

Enjoy yourselves today. For those in the area, Fredrick city is having its candlelight tour of historic churches tonight, and that’s always fun (there is also always food). For those out of town or uninterested in the tour, there are crazy sales today. Or you could go see The Interview, or that movie with Chris Pine in it (merry late Christmas to me…)

Don’t get caught in the post-Christmas slump. We can’t go full speed for a freaking month and then come to a complete stop on the 26th. If you slow down anything, go a bit easier on the candy today or you’re going to be sick until next December.

On Christmas and Doing It Your Way

MR. HANKEY

Ah, Christmas. What a complicated, wonderful mess you are.

Christmas is a bit of a ridiculous holiday. Let’s be honest. To some, it’s a chance to celebrate the birth of their savior (during a month that most have said is not His true birth month); it’s just another day to those of most faiths. And we let ourselves do some silly things in celebration of this holiday. We drink liquid garbage (or as some call it, eggnog). One morning a year, we sit around a dead tree and eat candy out of socks. We willingly sing to strangers, oftentimes cracking out songs with really weird lyrics (a child shivers in the cold. No, forget the blankets—let’s bring him some precious metals, though I have no idea who he is. Also, which one of the guards let a shepherd boy into the King’s palace?)

Also, there's this song...

Also, there’s this song…

But with all of that, we still love the holiday season. I’m right there with you guys. And we’ve created approximately seven spajillion ways to celebrate the month of December. And guess what: nobody has the right way to do it.

Before we even talk Christmas, we have to have word about the Merry Christmas/Happy Hanukkah/Happy Holidays question, because even in 2014 people don’t get it yet. Basically, the rule of thumb is as follows: Don’t be a dick. That’s it. If someone has a different belief system than you, this is not the time to go crapping all over them. If you want to say Merry Christmas, say it—but don’t make a big deal about it. Would Christ write a Facebook post about how people in this country are killing humanity by refusing to say Merry Christmas? No, he would not. Same goes for you, Jewish friends. We still love you; don’t get all hot and bothered if we accidently slip.

CH

And the rule applies to the Santa vs Jesus crew, too. Don’t demand that every room of every house you visit be graced by a gold-plated nativity; likewise, don’t start throwing shepherds and wise men and angels around just because you don’t consider them sacred.

Once you’ve decided that you’re not going to be a bigoted cottonheaded ninnymuggins, it’s time to have some fun, you-style. It’s your holiday; celebrate it how you personally choose. This is supposed to be a period of joy. If you don’t want to wear and ugly Christmas sweater or go caroling or eat gingerbread men, just don’t. But if you want to wear jingle bell earrings and blast Christmas music and eat three pounds of gumdrops, that’s certainly an option.

Wanna throw an extravagant party? Do it. Spike the eggnog? Even better. Sit in the comfort of your own home and eat to your heart’s content? Sounds like fun. Volunteering at the local shelter? Bless you. Opening up a black market for Princess Unicorn? Er… hey, gotta ride that trend.

MY HORN

Not everyone that has the Christmas spirit is outwardly bubbly about it. Have some patience with these people. I can assure you that they are likely just very private about this time of year. Oftentimes it’s out of grief—this can be a very hard time of year for a lot of suffering people. But you know what? Some people are so intensely dedicated to the meaning of this holiday, secularly or religiously speaking, that they can’t show it. What they feel is beyond description, beyond display, beyond words. (You have no idea how frustrating that is for someone that writes to communicate).

Santa-and-Jesus

Unfortunately, if you want to be around other people, you might have to out some of your preferences aside. For the sake of camaraderie and peaceful family gatherings, sometimes you just gotta suck it up and eat the fruitcake, spin the dreidel, and watch that godforsaken Christmas cartoon. And sometimes you will have to break tradition; it can’t be your way all the time.

The world will not end if you don’t watch every single Christmas movie or make seventeen kinds of Christmas cookies. The world continues to spin and real-world things get in the way. Don’t worry about it.

Next year, bud.

Next year, bud.

Take some time to make this holiday season happy by your definition. We put so much effort into chasing happiness that we forget that it is a concept that’s hard to define and even harder to achieve on a large scale.

In short, don’t be an overbearing d-bag, but don’t be afraid to celebrate the holidays as you see fit, no matter if you celebrate in public or private, loudly or silently, in church or by the punchbowl or on your couch.

Merry Christmas, you guys.

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Good Morning

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Nobody says the two most powerful words in the English language anymore, so let me change that: Good Morning.

You know what? I get it. Mornings aren’t great. Aside from the fact that you have to get out of bed (and believe me, I sympathize) mornings are usually filled with things you don’t want to hear any time of day. The world is in a bit of a sucky place right now. It seems like the news is one catastrophe after another: Sydney, Peshewar, North Korea and Sony, and the horrors of Finals Week. In a world where the news is constantly surrounding us on phones and TVs and Facebook, I understand that the first things you hear during the day aren’t usually going to be pleasant. And your day ends up in the crapper because the morning was a wash of depressing headlines.

So make today different. This morning isn’t as bad as it seems.

There are only seven days until Christmas. That’s exciting for everyone, whether you love or dread the upcoming holiday — it’s either almost here or almost over, depending on your point of view.

On top of that, and almost more important than that, finals are almost over. For those of you facing an exam today: take a break from studying this morning. Take a few minutes to breathe and rest; the morning of is too late to be cramming, and positivity and a rested brain are more important at this point.

Mornings are great because unlike the rest of the day, if you really want to, you can make your own time. Waking up ten minutes before usual is another ten minutes you can do whatever you want with.

Today, take a few minutes for yourself. Remind yourself that life is worth living. In a pinch, YouTube is a great way to start the day off with something good. So is googling baby animals. And good food — morning time calls for bacon.

The best way to have a good morning? Make it a good morning for someone else. As someone who had 6 AM commitments all through high school and a few months in college, I can tell you that the people that most often make your day are the ones that are decently okay with being up with you. Saying the words “good morning” is not only polite, it’s special — when you mean it. For bonus points, pick up a few doughnuts and bring them to work/class. Everyone likes the guy with the doughnuts.

Today is a great day. Babies will be born. Lives will start. People will marry. People will accomplish great things. You’ll learn something today.

Good Morning, guys. Go kick this one in the butt and thank it for the pleasure.

Potty-Training the Taliban

Warfare is never the first, best solution to a problem. But there are certainly times that it can be effective. When someone poses a threat to you or those you’ve sworn to defend, you have to retaliate. You fight the opposing armed forces, you win, and you keep them from ever threatening you again. Peace slowly returns and things return to a modified state of normal.

Then there are cold-blooded, deranged, sickening, mindless animals that decide to slaughter innocent people just to prove that they can.

This morning in the country of Pakistan, Taliban forces attacked a school for dependents of Pakistani soldiers. Casualties were mostly children; total death count is up past 120 people, with several hundred more wounded. Because of the nature of the school, these men—in uniform—were able to scale the wall unnoticed and attack. It’s made even worse by the fact that Peshawar, the city that these people called home, has been the site of massive terror attacks before. This life, one of death and fear and unpredictable attacks, is a repeated reality for them.

I don’t care what motive you have, killing schoolchildren is cowardice. Plain and simple. There is nothing to be gained by the loss of human life today other than the satisfaction of screwing the world up. This was not a strategic military operation. This was a terror attack.

This is the enemy. Not our own police force. Not the opposite political party. Not the entire Pakistani government. Not the nation of Islam. Just the minority band of extremists that think they can get what they want by killing civilians and scaring us into submission. We cannot fear them. If we give into fear, they win—and they keep killing people.

This minority group sincerely believes that it is their job to kill those that do not agree with them. And take my word for it: they’re not scared to enter the US. Look at Sydney the other day. Who the hell attacks Australia? These conflicts are not limited to the Middle East.

The reason that this is a problem though? The real reason? This movement is forged by an idea. This is not a racially-charged, patriotically-fueled war between countries. These groups are not representative of any people, religious or otherwise. Their brand of terror can convert anyone, anywhere. And if we do not send a message that we do not tolerate it, it will grow. It’s not limited by borders, age, race, gender, religion, or profession.

Technically speaking, the Pakistani military has been attempting to clear this mess out of their country. The Taliban is claiming that this attack was revenge for the death of some Tribesmen. But in reality, they’ve done more than that. And it’s all well and good that the leaders of the world can tweet their condolences and strong condemnation of this attack, but in the wake of recent beheadings, hostage crises, bombings, and all the trouble that’s been stirring up over the last decade or more, it looks like it takes more than that.

This is as much our problem as it is the problem of that part of the world. Because it could very well be us the next time. Think of Boston. Fort Hood. 9/11.

They wanted to send a message. It’s time we sent out own. And if it takes boots on the ground, so be it. Like an unruly dog peeing in the house, they think that they can continue these abominable acts because we’re not stopping them.  Time to housetrain the dog—by any means necessary.

The Hallowed Field of Army/Navy

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Today, two teams of heroes will clash on the field of battle. Today, brother will fight against brother. Today, all feelings of unity will be set away for an afternoon of no-punches-pulled competition.

Today is the Army/Navy football game.

It’s hard to explain why this game is so special. I’ve asked many friends over the years and I’ve gotten many different answers, and they’re all valid:

This is a game that is fought by two teams of men who are so dedicated to a cause that they’re willing to give their lives to it.

This is a game that will pit a Squid son against his Grunt daddy.

This is a game that deserves its own hallowed Saturday afternoon all to itself — no other games are played today.

This is a game steeped in 115 years of tradition — played by organizations that care about tradition above almost everything else.

This is a game that kills the spirit of unity in the US Armed forces and allows us, for just a few hours, to play with the objective of victory instead of cooperation.

This is a game that represents millions and millions of people. The players on the field represent soldiers and sailors past, present and future, as well as their families and support groups.

This is a game that’s fair. Most colleges have football teams that are staffed by guys too big to even be in the service, and this game eliminates that disadvantage.

This is not a game. This is a war, and we take it very seriously.

This is your year, Black Knights. Go ARMY, beat Navy!