ValueSpeak
A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker

PEACE ON EARTH?

It is a crisp, clear late November morning. Evidence of the season's first snowfall is scattered in icy patches here and there, crunching when you step on it and melting - oh, so slowly - when you don't. Christmas decorations, from the tacky to the sublime, are everywhere, and Christmas music gently hums from every speaker in every store and office building.

It's "that" time of year again. So why aren't I feeling "that" way?

You know . . . Christmasy.

The streets and malls seem a little less crowded and hectic this year. Since I'm not a merchant, that fact alone should be reason to rejoice.

Shouldn't it?

But something is different this year. There's a bittersweet feeling to the holiday season, brought on by every newscast and newspaper. Much of the world is at war. Men and women flank battlefields and potential danger zones at home and abroad, awaiting orders that will put them in the position of having to kill or be killed.

And that changes everything.

Suddenly, Longfellow's words are packed with meaning:

And in despair I bowed my head:
"There is no peace on earth," I said.
"For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men."

Bert is 43, the father of four children and one of the best high school teachers you've ever seen. For 21 years he has also been assigned to an Army Reserve unit, but his soldiering has been mostly of the "weekend warrior" variety - until his unit was activated last month.

If anyone has a right to "Bah! Humbug!" this holiday season, it's Bert. But he simply refuses to. Please don't misunderstand - he's not excited about trading school lunch for MRE's (Meals Ready to Eat - assuming, of course, that there really IS a difference). But he views it as a matter of duty and personal integrity.

"The Army has been good to me for 21 years, and I really haven't had to do much in return," he said just before leaving. "I'm not about to ask them to change the rules now that the going is a little bit rougher. "Besides," he added, "it's the holidays. How can you be uptight during the holidays?"

Hold it. Was I missing something? I assumed the season would deepen his hurt and frustration at the prospect of going to war. But even though he doesn't like the idea of being away from his family at this time of year, Bert finds comfort - and yes, peace - in the decorations, lights and music.

That's when it occurred to me that maybe the concept of "peace on earth, good will toward men" is more of an attitude than a compilation of current events and circumstances. Perhaps real peace comes from within, and has more to do with how we choose to approach the challenges life thrusts upon us than the reality of those challenges themselves. With the right attitude, a bitter winter blizzard becomes much-needed water for the garden next spring. Aggravatingly long lines at department store counters become welcome stimulants to a struggling economy. A tour of duty in Afghanistan becomes a chance to pay off a 21-year debt. And Christmas begins to feel . . . well . . . Christmasy once again.

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--- © Joseph Walker

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Look for Joe's book, "How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen? Home Remedies for an Ailing World." It is available on-line through www.Amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com.