I just finished teaching a class in law practice management at the S.J. Quinney College of Law at the University of Utah. It was a lot of fun. There are some really bright students out there. In a way I envy them just starting out their careers but mostly I'm glad I'm at this end and not where they are. Good luck to all of them.
New Year's Eve 2011. I can't say I'm sorry to see 2011 go. It has not been a good year for me. Although death is part of life and dad lived a good, full life, his passing has impacted me more than I would have thought. Intellectually I knew as 2011 began that we had only a few years at best before he and mom would be gone. But to actually have him gone, to know that in this life I can't ask his advice or talk to him, has hurt more than I thought. With all that needs to be done for mom, I think I have not completed the grieving process for him that I need to. I hope that in 2012 I can do that so that the new year will be better. In the meantime, good riddance 2011.
On Christmas Eve throughout the world, when the partying, the decorating, the feasting and the merry-making are finished, family Bibles are opened, children gather around a father, a mother, a grandfather or a grandmother, and the familiar story is told once again.
And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed.
(And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)
And all went to be taxed, every one to his own city.
And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David;)
To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.
And so it was that, while they were there, the days were accoplished that she should be delivered.
And she brought forth her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
And the angel said to them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.
And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.
And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.
And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.
But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.
And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told to them.
There are thousands of Christmas carols, some beautiful, some humorous, some just plain bad. Many of the traditional hymns are musical homages to the birth of our Lord. Some, such as Handel’s Messiah, or Joy to the World, are jubilant paeans to His majesty. Others evoke images of our Savior’s humble birth. “Silent Night” is instantly recognizable, whether sung in English, French, German or any language, or simply played instrumentally. Its haunting melody transports us to the manger over two thousand years ago and speaks peace to a troubled soul. Though still and soft, it commands attention so much that the words often become secondary. Yet the words carry no less power and force and welcome not only the newborn babe but the Savior of the world.
Silent night, holy night. All is calm, all is bright
Round yon virgin mother and Child.
Holy infant so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace, sleep in heavenly peace.
Silent night, holy night. Shepherds quake at the sight.
Glories stream from heaven afar;
Heavenly hosts sing, Alleluia!
Christ the savior is born! Christ the savior is born!
Silent night, holy night. Son of God, love’s pure light.
Being a Christian means to do what Christ would do, even when it is not convenient.
There was a little crippled boy who ran a small newsstand in a crowded railroad station. He must have been about twelve years old. Every day he would sell papers, candy, gum and magazines to the thousands of commuters passing through the terminal.
On night two men were rushing through the crowded station to catch a train. One was fifteen or twenty yards in front of the other. It was Christmas Eve. Their train was scheduled to depart in a matter of minutes.
The first man turned a corner and in his haste to get home to a Christmas party plowed right into the little crippled boy. He knocked him off his stool, and candy, newspapers and gum were scattered everywhere. Without so much as stopping, he cursed the little fellow for being there and rushed on to catch the train that would take him to celebrate Christmas in the way he had chosen for himself.
It was only a matter of seconds before the second commuter arrived on the scene. He stopped, knelt, and gently picked up the boy. After making sure the child was unhurt, the man gathered up the scattered newspapers, sweets and magazines. Then he took his wallet and gave the boy a five dollar bill. “Son,” he said, “I think this will take care of what was lost or soiled. Merry Christmas!”
Without waiting for a reply, the commuter now picked up his briefcase and hurried on his way. As he did, the little crippled boy cupped his hands together and called out, “Mister, Mister!”
The man stopped as the boy asked, “Are you Jesus Christ?”
By the look on his face, it was obvious the man was embarrassed by the question. But he smiled and said, “No, son. I am not Jesus Christ, but I am trying hard to do what He would do if He were here.”
And that, my friend, is what it means to be a Christian, even on Christmas Eve.
I first read this story in the Readers’ Digest about 1982. It stuck with me over the years. Originally published in 1964, it was picked up by the Readers’ Digest and since has been re-published twice in Boys’ Life, the magazine of the Boy Scouts of America. I have searched to no avail to find a verbatim copy. This version is true to the original, though not all the words are the author’s.
Over a century ago, in the 1890s, the west was still a pretty wild place. Settlers had followed the frontiersmen, but the land was sparsely occupied and towns were few and far between. Cowboys still worked on ranches, driving cattle in the summer over well-worn trails to the stockyards where they were loaded on trains to Chicago, Oklahoma City and other cattle towns. During the winter, these same cowboys lived a life of isolation on the ranches, tending to the cattle through the cold snows, only rarely going to town.
One of these cowboys was Stubby Pringle, a young man of 18 or so. He was called Stubby because he was short. Stubby was one of those perpetually happy people, always a smile on his face and the first to offer a hand to a stranger. Despite his short stature, Stubby had a way with the girls and loved to go to town every chance he got. But Stubby was also a good cow hand. He never shirked his duties and would help another cowboy even after his own chores were finished.
One cold, lonely December on the plains of central Wyoming, Stubby was looking forward to December 24. The town always put on a Christmas Eve dance and Stubby had been planning to go for several weeks. It was the highlight of Christmas for him. Christmas day was just another day to cowboys. The cattle still needed to be watered and fed, calves got lost and had to be found, and there was plenty to do. For a few hours, though, Stubby could forget all that and twirl a young lady or two at the dance. He had his eye on one in particular, and, truth be told, she was looking forward to seeing Stubby as much as he was looking forward to seeing her.
“What d’ya wanna go to town, fer?” Jake teased him. Jake was one of the old cow hands, a rough man who had spent many more than his share of years in the saddle and sleeping on the ground. “You know you can’t leave here till your chores are done,” Jake went on. “And by the time you get to town, it’ll be near 9:00. You’ll have a couple, maybe three hours then you got a long ride back here. You won’t be gittin’ to bed till near 3:00 a.m. and tomorrow’s another day, just like any other. You got to be up by 6:00.”
“I know,” Stubby grinned, “but it’ll be worth it.”
“No woman, nor no number of women, is worth that,” Jake snorted.
“You’re wrong, Jake,” Stubby answered. “The one I have in mind is.”
“Ahh, yer just a young fool,” Jake replied. “One day you’ll come to your senses. While you’re out there in the dark and cold on the back of a horse, I’ll be snug in my bed.”
But Stubby knew that secretly Jake was a softie. Stubby had tried to get Jake to go to the dance with him, but Jake begged off, choosing instead to needle Stubby and sleep.
On December 24, Stubby hurried through his chores so that he had time to take a cold bath and shave. Then, bundling himself up as best he could, he walked out to the stable for his horse, who looked at him quizzically. Why on earth was Stubby going out, the horse seemed to ask. We’ve done our work and it’s time for a warm stall and a bucket of oats. But Stubby swung his leg up over the saddle, dug his heels into the horse’s ribs and pulled hard on the reins. Obediently, the horse turned into the wind and moved slowly west, toward town.
Stubby hunkered down in the saddle, pulled the hat farther over his eyes and tucked his chin into the collar of his sheepskin jacket. Even with his woolen muffler wrapped around his hat, over his ears and under his chin, the wind stung his face. He patted his coat pocket one more time to make sure his Christmas gift to his young lady was there. It wasn’t much, just a piece of calico that he had crudely fashioned into a handerchief, but it was all he had. He had wrapped it in some colored paper he had managed to scrounge up and tied it with a piece of dyed yarn. He knew she would be pleased at the thought.
As Stubby rode on, the sky darkened to a deep blue and finally black. The stars twinkled overhead, the cold, crisp air making them seem even closer. Now the wind had died down somewhat and he could hear the snow crunch under the horse’s hooves. Stubby sunk into his own thoughts, faraway thoughts of Christmases past with his family back east. Stubby had left when he was 15 to find work in the West and to escape the mines. He hadn’t seen his family for over three years. He got letters only occasionally. He knew, though, that his parents and younger brothers and sister would be gathered around the tree this night, waiting until they could open their gifts. For Stubby, there would be no gift beyond the dance that lay before him. To Stubby, it would be the best Christmas present he could receive. Silently, he urged the horse on and she seemed to understand, picking up her feet just a little faster.
Now the air was almost still. How long he had been able to hear the sound, Stubby didn’t know, but suddenly he became aware of the dull thud of someone chopping wood.
“Not much of an ax-man,” Stubby thought. The blows were irregular and, to his trained ear, glancing. He could tell it was coming from just behind a rise to his right.
“Best check,” he thought. “Someone is going to cut a foot off if that keeps up.” He pulled on the reins and his horse swung right. As he crested the rise, he could see a figure awkwardly swing an ax. As he moved closer, he could see it was a woman in a long coat. She stood in the light coming from the open door of a sod house, a small pile of wood beside her. She would take a couple of half-hearted strokes, then put the ax down and lean on the handle.
“At that rate, she’ll take all night,” Stubby thought. “Maybe I should stop and help her. Won’t take but a minute.”
“Evening, ma’am,” Stubby called out, so as not to frighten her. Still, she jerked at the sound of his voice and turned sharply. He could see some concern, perhaps a bit of fear, in her face, so he smiled brightly and tipped the brim of his hat.
“Can I lend a hand?” he asked, swinging his leg off the saddle without waiting for an answer. He walked to the woman and reached for the ax before she could protest.
“Well, yes, that would be nice,” she finally answered, hesitantly handing the ax to him.
Stubby hefted the ax and swung it expertly. The log gave a sharp crack and split neatly down the middle. In less than five minutes Stubby had a pile of wood that would last through Christmas day for the woman.
He handed the ax back. So far, she had said nothing. Now, as he turned to leave, she spoke. “Thank you,” she said. “We’ve been sick here, me and my two boys, and haven’t been able to chop any wood for about a week.”
“What about your husband?” Stubby asked.
She paused. Then, “He died last spring. Pneumonia, the doctor said.”
“I’m sorry,” Stubby answered. An embarrassed pause followed.
“We’re doing fine now,” the woman smiled weakly. A fit of coughing took her and Stubby knew that they weren’t doing fine.
“Why don’t you let me chop a bit more wood?” he asked. “It won’t take long and there’s plenty of time for me to get where I’m going.”
“That would be nice,” the woman replied. “I still haven’t gotten the Christmas decorations up and I can do that while you chop. That would be very nice,” she repeated.
Stubby took off his coat and laid it carefully aside. He picked up the ax and for about thirty minutes he methodically attacked the woodpile. When he was finished, there was a pile of wood that would last the family through a week of howling plains blizzard. By then the woman would be strong enough to make it. Stubby stepped inside the rude hut to say his goodbyes. There was but one room. In the far corner was a crude bunk bed. Two young boys slept peacefully under thin covers. The younger, on top, had fine, straw-colored hair. The older, on the bottom, had dark hair tousled by sleep.
As he entered, the woman turned and he could see her face clearly for the first time. Her eyes were tired but filled with gratitude. Her skin was lined with hard work and long days in the sun and wind. She held a few strands of colored paper that she was stringing over the fireplace. In a basket were a few ornaments. He saw no tree. The woman seemed to read his thoughts.
“We didn’t have time to get a tree. With the sickness and all, there just wasn’t. . . .” Her voice trailed off and she turned to hide a tear. Stubby could imagine the boys waking in the morning to no tree.
“Ma’am, it would please me if you would let me get you a tree,” he offered. “There’s a fine stand of pines about a mile back. I know I could find you a tree in no time.”
“Oh, no, I couldn’t let you do that,” she protested. He could tell she was more determined than when he had offered to cut the wood, but still she wanted him to get them a tree.
“It’s no trouble at all,” he said. “You can’t have Christmas without a tree.” Without another word Stubby turned and walked out the door, picking up the ax as he left.
It took him longer than he had planned to get a tree, but finally he found the perfect one, not too big, but nicely shaped. With a few swift strokes he felled the tree and tied it to his saddle, then began the trip back to the hut.
He knocked but got no answer. Quietly he opened the door. The woman was asleep in an old rocking chair by the fire. He could see that she had brought in a supply of the wood he’d chopped and built a nice fire. Then, no doubt exhausted, she sat down to wait for him. Now she was asleep, the ornaments untouched. The boys didn’t look as if they had moved.
Stubby looked closer at the boys. The older one seemed to be about nine, the younger maybe five or six. He shook his head in wonderment. This little family, alone here on the plains, trying to hew a living out of the earth. Farmers, most likely, he surmised, for he had seen no cattle or other livestock. Their situation made his own childhood seem like one of princely riches.
Stubby didn’t know what time it was. He guessed it to be after 10:00, maybe close to 11:00. He was still an hour from town. By the time he got there, the dance would be over. He might as well turn around and head back to the bunkhouse. At least he could get a little more sleep.
But he couldn’t go, at least not yet. He knew what had to be done. As quickly and quietly as he could, he brought in the tree and set it up in the corner. Then, taking the few decorations there were, he decorated the tree, placing a shiny star on top. He stood back and surveyed his work. A smile spread across his face, then was quickly replaced by a frown. There were no gifts! Well, he had no use for that piece of calico now. Taking it out of his pocket, he lay it softly in the woman’s lap. Then, by the light of the fire, he took his pocketknife, the one his grandfather had given him, and skillfully carved a piece of wood into a wolf, the head thrown back, howling defiance at the moon. He set that on the bunk by the younger boy.
What about the older boy? He had nothing else, nothing except. . . . Stubby took the knife out of his pocket again and held it lovingly in his hand. He watched the flames from the fire dance over the shiny blade. Stubby kept this knife in perfect condition, cleaning and oiling it after every use. It was sharpened to a razor’s edge. He ran his thumb over the keen edge, feeling it cut every so slightly into his skin. He ran his fingers over the carved wood body, feeling the familiar ridges and grooves. Quietly, slowly, he closed the blade, hearing and feeling it snap home one last time. Then, tenderly, he laid it next to the older boy. Now it was perfect. Stubby turned and crept out of the room, closing the door softly behind him.
The moon was low on the horizon. Stubby walked to his horse and rubbed her nose. She turned and nuzzled him. “Let’s go home, girl,” he said, climbing back into the saddle.
Stubby didn’t remember much about the ride back to the ranch, other than the warm glow that seemed to surround him as the horse plodded on. The wind started up again, portending a Christmas morning storm. He knew, though, that the woman and her boys would have enough wood no matter how long the storm lasted.
As Stubby came up on the final rise he could see the bunkhouse far below in the fading moonlight. In the distance he heard the familiar ring of a cow bell. Surely, the horse picked her way down the hill right to the stable.
As Stubby slipped into the cold blankets, old Jake rolled over and spoke to him groggily. “Well, was it worth it?” he asked.
“Oh, yeah,” Stubby replied. “It was worth every minute.”
The wind picked up. You know, I know, any darn fool knows, that wind does strange things to tired ears and cow bells in the distance can sound like sleigh bells, but Stubby swore that, as he drifted off to sleep, he heard sleigh bells and a faint voice calling to him, “Merry Christmas, Stubby, and thanks for the help.”
All that is known of this poem is that it was written by a Marine in Okinawa. That would lead one to believe that it was written during World War II, but when it was written is of no matter, for soldiers have always spent Christmases far from home. Particularly at this time in our nation’s history, we should pause to think of those who are willing to leave their families and friends to assure the survival of liberty.
T'was the night before Christmas,
he lived all alone,
in a one bedroom house made of
plaster and stone.
I had come down the chimney
with presents to give,
and to see just who
in this home did live.
I looked all about,
a strange sight did I see,
no tinsel, no presents,
not even a tree.
No stocking by mantle,
just boots filled with sand.
On the wall hung pictures
of far distant lands.
With medals and badges,
awards of all kinds,
a somber thought
came through my mind.
For this house was different,
it was dark and dreary,
I found the home of a soldier,
once I could see clearly.
The soldier lay sleeping,
curled up on the floor
in this one bedroom home.
The face was so gentle,
the room in such disorder,
not how I pictured
A United States soldier.
Was this the hero of whom I’d just read?
curled up on a poncho, the floor for a bed?
I realized the families
that I saw this night,
owed their lives to these soldiers
who were willing to fight.
Soon round the world
the children would play,
and grownups would celebrate
a bright Christmas Day.
They all enjoyed freedom
each moment of the year,
because of the soldiers,
like the one lying here.
I couldn’t help wonder
how many lay alone
on a cold Christmas Eve
in a land far from home.
The very thought
brought a tear to my eye,
I dropped to my knees
and started to cry.
The soldier awakened
and I heard a soft voice,
"Santa, don’t cry,
this life is my choice;
I fight for freedom,
I don’t ask for more,
My life is my God,
my country, my corps."
The soldier rolled over
and soon drifted to sleep.
I couldn’t control it,
I continued to weep.
I kept watch for hours,
so silent and still
And we both shivered
from the cold night’s chill.
I didn’t want to leave,
on that cold, dark night,
this guardian of honor
so willing to fight.
Then the soldier rolled over,
with a voice soft and pure,
whispered, “Carry on, Santa,
it’s Christmas Day, all is secure."
One look at my watch and I knew he was right.
"Merry Christmas, my friend, and to all a Good Night."
I've been a lawyer since 1976, though my family seems to have gone into medicine. We have two nurses, one nursing student, one medical student, one pre-med student, and one working in medical claims, as well as one in the IT field.