A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker


It was a crisp, clear December morning.  The final remnants of last week’s blustery snowfall lay scattered in icy patches here and there, crunching when you stepped on them and melting – oh, so slowly – when you didn’t.

Christmas decorations, from the tacky to the sublime, were everywhere, and Christmas music (Anita calls it “spending music”) gently hummed from every speaker in every store and office building.

It was “that” time of year again.  So . . . why wasn’t I feeling “that” way?

For some reason the streets and malls seem a little less crowded this year.  My Christmas shopping is almost done.  And it’s been fun to watch our granddaughters – now a year older, and a year wiser to the ways of Christmas – respond to the lights and the excitement.

But there’s a bittersweet feeling to the holiday season.  My country is at war, and every other day seems to be proclaimed “the bloodiest” since . . . well, since the last bloody day.

And that changes everything.  Suddenly, Longfellow’s words are packed with meaning:

And in despair I bowed by 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.”

Then I talked to Greg, a work associate who is also a long-time member of the U.S. Army Reserve.  Greg’s unit has been called up, which means he’ll be leaving for Iraq a week before Christmas.  If anyone has a right to “Bah!  Humbug!” this year, it’s Greg.  But he refuses to.

“The Army has been good to me for 21 years, and I really haven’t had to do much in return,” he told me recently.  “I’m not going to start whining and complaining now that I’m being asked to do the very thing I’ve been trained to do.  It’s my turn to go.  It’s my duty.  I consider it an honor to serve, I really do.”

Which is not to say that Greg isn’t feeling some anxiety over his departure.

“Sure, I’m nervous – for me and for my family,” he said.  “But you know what?  I’m also pretty calm.  But it seems to me that if you’re living your life the best that you can and you’re doing what you think is right you can deal with pretty much anything.”

“Besides,” he added, “it’s Christmas!  How can anybody be uptight at Christmas?”

Hold it.  Was I missing something?  I assumed the season would deepen his hurt and frustration at the prospect of going off to war.  But even though Greg didn’t relish the idea of being away from his family for the holiday, he found soothing comfort and peace in the decorations, the lights and the music of the season.

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 decide to approach the challenges that life thrusts upon us than the reality of those challenges themselves.  With the right attitude, a bitter winter blizzard becomes water for the garden next spring.  Higher gas prices present an opportunity to get more exercise and save the environment by doing less driving.  A tour of duty in Iraq becomes a chance to pay off a 21-year debt.

And Christmas begins to feel . . . well . . . Christmassy once again.

Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime,
Of peace on earth, good will to men!

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— © Joseph Walker

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