The air is crisp and cold in the mountains where I live — just as it should be in December. The final remnants of last weekend's snowfall can still be seen here and there on the lawn, with more snow expected in the next day or two.
They say we'll have a white Christmas this year.
So why haven't I been feeling … you know … Christmassy?
Christmas lights and decorations glow with their special charm from every house and store. Christmas music is playing everywhere I go, and I really love Christmas music – well, most of it, anyway. And we have a brand new baby grandson just a few miles away, and there's nothing quite like holding a sleeping infant in your arms to bring the Christmas spirit home.
But there's a bittersweet feeling to this particular holiday season. Recent tragic events have, for me at least, cast a somber shadow over what is traditionally the most wonderful, magical, joyful time of the year. This year, 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 today I received an email from Brooklyn, a young friend who is currently stationed in Afghanistan as an Army medic.
It's a hard place to be, and a hard job to do. She sees tragic suffering and death all around her all the time — sometimes daily. But instead of allowing herself to be overwhelmed by the harsh realities of her life, Brooklyn says she has chosen to "find at least one good thing each day" upon which to focus during the holiday season.
For example, she wrote about traveling recently with a convoy, during which one of the vehicles — a fully loaded 40,000-pound monster-size vehicle — lost control and rolled 2½ times. It's the kind of incident that can result in serious injury — or worse — and she rushed to provide medical attention.
Upon arriving at the overturned vehicle, she was startled to see two of the four passengers already standing in the road, unharmed.
She climbed inside the gunner's hatch to find a third soldier collecting his gear, also uninjured. Then she saw the fourth and final passenger climbing out the back. "He had the only injury: a cut on one finger," Brooklyn wrote.
"There were so many things that could have gone wrong," she continued. "The gunner could have remained in the turret instead of dropping into the vehicle (the turret was completely destroyed). They could have all decided not to wear seat belts; they could have forgotten to tie down the gear. But they didn't. It was a miracle that every single passenger was able to walk away from what could have been a devastating accident."
So, I chuckled to myself as I read the email. Rather than acknowledge the cruel circumstances of her camo-covered Christmas, Brooklyn is going to view her tour of duty as one long, continuous Christmas miracle — complete with red and green Band-Aids for injured pinkies.
That's when it occurred to me: Maybe Brooklyn knows something that I don't. Maybe "peace on earth, good will toward men" is more of an attitude than a news report.
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.
A bitter winter blizzard becomes water for the garden next spring. A tour of duty overseas provides a unique perspective on everyday life. And tragic events become an opportunity for entire communities to come together to mourn, to comfort each other and to grow closer to each other, and to God.
And somehow, with that camo-enhanced perspective, Christmas begins to feel … you know … 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!