When one declares oneself to be a conservative, one is not, unfortunately, thereupon visited by tongues of fire that leave one omniscient. The acceptance of a series of premises is just the beginning. After that, we need constantly to inform ourselves, to analyze and to think through our premises and their ramifications. We need to ponder, in the light of the evidence, the strengths and the weaknesses, the consistencies and the inconsistencies, the glory and the frailty of our position, week in and week out. Otherwise, we will not hold our own in a world where informed dedication, not just dedication, is necessary for survival and growth.

William F. Buckley Jr., Feb 8, 1956, NR

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Remembering Christmas

I remember as a child seeing pictures of the Magi from the east traveling across the dark deserts to see the Christ child in Bethlehem; those pictures colored drawings of men and camels gazing to the heavens in fascination at an enormous star glowing so bright as if it were reaching for the earth. The long tails stretching to the ground appeared to be God’s hand reaching down.

I remember many Christmas mornings from my childhood, although not really one in particular. I simply remember the coffee brewing and the excitement of my parents although in retrospect, and after being a parent myself, I realize that excitement was tempered a bit by the fact that they had played Santa and wrapped gifts until 200 a.m. The coffee certainly wasn’t the first pot of the day. I remember Christmas dinner which was always traditional, meaning it consisted of a menu of items that I didn’t really like. The entire family was present for those dinners, and that was the part my Mom loved the most.

One Christmas I do remember is because of a special gift I received for which I will be eternally grateful. I was about 10 years old, perhaps a year or two younger, and it was a tough economic time for many, much like today. A couple of years before I had been given an electric car, one of those toys that you plug in and charge for 12 hours so that a child can ride for about 30 minutes. I really liked that car, and took great care of it even at a young age. That year, my dad sat me down and told me that he wanted to give my car away. I was getting too big for it and there was a man he worked with who was having a tough time and wasn’t going to be able to buy any presents for his son. My dad wanted to give it to him so that his son could have Christmas.

I consented, reluctantly, and my car disappeared. Christmas morning made me forget it as there were new boxes and miles of colored paper that rapidly covered the floor. At the end of unwrapping, my dad pulled out a small package to be unwrapped. It was a gift from the man who had received my car. My dad opened it, and in un-Marine like fashion began to wipe his eyes which quickly became moist. Inside the wrapping was a little, brown, plastic horse with a cowboy. It was an inexpensive toy, probably fifty cents in those days, but has held a million dollars in importance to me to this very day. The note attached said that the gift was from a family that didn’t have much money and couldn’t compensate monetarily for the thing they had been given, but that love, respect, pride, dignity, and self-respect could not be measured.I don't remember the exact words, but this was how my dad explained it to me. He sent that cheap toy because we all have things to give; that we must always return the things that God had given as blessings, and that money was not important next to family and friends.

I wish I could say that I appreciated the lesson for the sake of the lesson, but I think that I appreciated the impact on my father – born during the Great depression, a Marine veteran himself of two wars, three children, and the daily efforts it takes to make men from boys. As I grew older I saw that toy every day in its prominent position on a shelf in my parent’s living room. Even today, 30 years later, I wind that horse at Christmas time and let him gallop for a short time to remind myself that what we truly have is love. To remind me that we are blessed with special people, not special things. Anyone can give a sweater or a football; to give someone love and admiration and to cherish what they offer is the real gift.

During the week of Christmas 1990 my brother and I were at Camp Lejeune, N.C. preparing to depart for Saudi Arabia. Several times that week our unit packed up and headed for Cherry Point, only to be returned to the barracks as our orders and priorities changed.

Christmas day saw a bunch of Marines sitting around a six-inch tree singing Christmas carols and praying. We knew what we were going to face - combat and miserable conditions for the foreseeable future - but the prayers were for families. Prayers that they would be comforted, and taken care of during the dark times. Prayers for them to be content, and happy, and to be able to anticipate our return and not be obsessed with the possibility that we wouldn't.

December 26th at dawn saw us loading an aircraft headed for the desert, and seven months of prayers that continued for families. I don't want to turn this into a discussion about Iraq, but for those who have never served with our warriors, they aren't concerned for themselves. They spend their days in combat zones worrying about their families. My biggest worry was not of death or injury, but in making a bad decision as a team leader that would cause one of my Marines to be injured or killed.

Within days, I saw first hand the stars that had guided the Magi to Bethlehem. Always an outdoors enthusiast, I was overwhelmed with the star filled sky and the amount of light that cascaded from the heavens. I may not have seen the Bethlehem star, but I did see the hand of God.

Those two Christmas memories are a little different. One is a reminder of how a fifty cent toy can mean more than a new car or a pony or an iPod ever could. The other, that we may find peace in the simplest of things. A brilliantly illuminated night sky showing me that peace and guidance were there for the taking, just when I needed it most.

In the intervening years I have asked for that divine guidance a number of times, and have been doing so for many days recently. Sometimes I heard the answer, sometimes not. Sometimes my mind is too cluttered or too determined to do it my way, even while I am asking for direction, that I don't hear the answer. The worst thing to know is that God is telling me to wait, that the time is not yet right for my answer to be revealed. I do know that God is there, he is listening, and sometimes just knowing that is enough.

Christmas is about giving, and giving is more than just something wrapped in colored paper purchased among crowds of people in shopping malls. It is about giving our hearts and even our very essence to something or someone on the outside. Sometimes it is giving something of yourself, with no expectation that it is even a gift. If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, the same is true for the value of things recieved. The best Christmas gift I have ever received was just this year, and the person who gave it to me paid nothing. It wasn’t so much intended for Christmas, but was given in the spirit of giving, just to give. The warmth of Christmas is spread not through wrapping paper, but simple conversations and the opening of hearts to let in new love and new possibilities. It is a time to renew old friendships and heal a rift with a neighbor. Pick up the phone and call someone you love that you haven’t talked to in years. Take an hour and speak to everyone on your Christmas card list. Drive your children to a dark place and let them wonder at the night sky. Let this be the year that they find their stars, or a little wind up horse.

I hope that this Christmas finds you in peace. Peace in knowing that you are loved and peace in knowing that others find peace in the love you give to them. Find peace in knowing that God gives without expecting in return, and loves without ceasing. May the celebration of the birth of Christ give you a boost into a new year!

17 comments:

rockync said...

A beautiful post from a beautiful, honorable man who has his priorities straight. Robert, my friend, this Christmas, I will count you among the gifts God has bestowed on me this year. I wish you peace and starry skies and all your loved ones near.

Merry Christmas! Rocky

Jennifer said...

Robert, What an absolutely beautiful post, although I cheated and read it when it was still in draft form. Have a very Merry Christmas!

The Liberal Lie The Conservative Truth said...

Thank you for the memories Robert.

What you have written cannot be valued in dollars but in the love that was shared because of unmatchless love given on the first Christmas.

Were it not for that love there would be no Christmas and the memories in which we all treasure that are created during this blessed time of the year would not be.

God bless my friend and Merry Christmas!

Pasadena Closet Conservative said...

May God's love bless you this Christmas and always, my friends.

Robert said...

Rocky, I am just going to accept that graciously and with a smile. Thank you. The gift part...not so sure about. You may want to hang on to that receipt....

Jennifer, you are impatient and always cheat and read things in draft! Thank you though...I hope you guys have a great week and safe travels and that you experience some amazing southern hospitality while visiting. Call me Thursday so I can hear "Merry Christmas, ya'll!" from the Jersey girl!

Ken, I wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas, and a wonderful new year. You are right about Christmas, and this time of year, for many reasons, gives my faith a bit of an injection.

rockync said...

Robert, it was meant as a compliment to your fine character - no matter what anyone else says about you! :)

A blessed Christmas to you and yours...

Robert said...

Rocky, I know and I am touched by the sentiment. I don't think my character is worthy of noting, and if any of it is superative, then the credit is not due to me but to the people that God has placed in my life.

Among those blessings in mine are the people with whom I congregate in this massive community on the internet. I think if we all got together around a table, we could solve most of the nation's problems on a long weekend, with some time left over for friendly chatter!

rockync said...

Robert, sounds like a great idea! I vote we plan a summer summit for 2009!

OK, everybody, beer and burgers at Robert's place! :)

All kidding aside, we could try for a weekend meet somewhere - I think it would be extremely helpful to HEAR as well as read what each of us are thinking. The inflection of someone's voice and the presentation of ideas can go a long way to getting a point across.
Could be interesting folks...

Robert said...

My place is definitely open for that, but I am not sure it is the best place in terms of location for everyone. Although I am good for the beer anyway! Let me see...

Atlanta is 2 1/2 for me, so that puts Greenville about 4 1/2...A weekend in Greenville? Columbia? Charlotte? Craig is relatively close in Nashville...This could work for everyone east of the muddy Missisip...of course, yankees and west coast people are invited as well.

Seriously, maybe not even wait until summer. End of April, first of May? T-P is planning a trip east about then... and those unfamiliar with our summers could survive that. Shoot, by then we might have our radio thing up and going and could do a live on-air discussion for the part where there were no adult beverages present....lol. This is actually very interesting, and you an count me in!

Anyone else that would seriously jump in?

TAO said...

Merry Christmas Robert,

Oh, and Merry Christmas to everyone else too! I just placed our order for the main course for Christmas Dinner...Honey Baked Ham...

That is an addiction! :)

There is no problem in the world that is too big to not be solved with a honey baked ham....

That leaves the Turkey and sides....

CB said...

Merry Christmas marine!

Robert said...

TAO, those things are addicting and it is our fare also. They have honey baked turkeys too, you know.

TAO said...

Robert....once I latch onto something as special as honey baked ham...well, I did think long and hard about the turkey...

Well, folks love my turkey (if they knew everything I threw into a black trash bag to marinette the turkey...well, what can I say!)

If it wasn't for my turkey and french onion soup well, I could get by with a microwave in the kitchen...

Two meals a year and thats it for me!

rockync said...

Greenville could work; what about Chattanooga or the Smoky Mountains?

Robert said...

Rocky, will you email me please. I think this could be a lot of fun! Chattanooga works...about 5 hours or so from me. Springtime in the Smokies is awesome....

Email me, and lets get to work on it!

Gayle said...

Robert, this post is awesome! It made me realize just what special people I can call friends that I've met through the internet. I'm proud to call you one of them.

I know I've been pretty scarce recently, but I've been busy spreading Christmas cheer. I guess that's what I've been doing anyway. I think I can count cooking wonderful meals for company as spreading Christmas cheer.

Incidently, I detest talking on the phone. I realize that sometimes I ignore some good people whom I should have called but haven't gotten around to. Then - after I finished calling them and having long conversations with them, I also realized that I probably succeeded in making myself feel better more than I did them and that it was far too easy. I knew it would be much harder to call people I wasn't particularly fond of and wish them a Merry Christmas, so that's what I did. Guess what? It wansn't that hard, but I still think it did me more good than it did them. It truly does make one feel better to give than to receive.

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Robert said...

Thank you Gayle. I have been blessed through my time on the internet to have met some good people that I am glad to call friends, despite the fact that we have never met in person. I hope to correct that with several of them in the coming year.

I thank everyone for their words, and appreciate that you tool the time to speak. I have another Christmas story that I wish to tell everyone that is deeply personal and incredibly, amazingly special. Perhaps I can tell it next year....