Being What We Want Our Children To Be

kids-learn-from-adultsUntil last week I really had no idea who Harvey Weinstein was. I’ve seen and enjoyed a number of movies that his film company produced, but never really paid attention to who was responsible for them. I thought that some movies like Pulp Fiction were the products of unadulterated genius and others not so much. I didn’t realize that it was because of Weinstein’s efforts that Shakespeare In Love won the best picture Oscar when it was up against movie gold like Saving Private Ryan and Elizabeth both of which were far superior to the winner in every imaginable way. I’ve since learned that Weinstein was masterful at garnering votes for movies produced by his studio. With his business acumen he made a name for himself and was quite the powerful man, not just in Hollywood but in political circles as well. In just a little more than a week his reputation and possibly his empire have come tumbling down. It appears that he has been taking advantage of his power by sexually harassing and maybe even attacking  young women who fell victim to his advances out of fear of destroying their careers if they came forward with accusations. The old stories of producers and directors having casting couches abound in the history of movie land and appear to be alive and well to this day.

I can’t say that I am all that surprised. I find the Hollywood scene to be so artificial. Let’s face it. Matt Damon is not really Jason Bourne anymore than any of the actors are the characters that they play. We tend to be star struck and to idolize them to the point of taking them more seriously than we ought. At the end of the day they are as human and imperfect as we are. Take away the lights, makeup, and film editing and they are often rather ordinary. The same goes for their thoughts and beliefs. As my mother always said, they have no more insight into how we should think than anybody else. In fact, it is generally in the most ordinary of circumstances that we find the most remarkable people.

Think about the totality of your life and you will be able to recall a cast of characters whom you have known who will never receive rewards or accolades, but whose ways of living were worthy of the pages of books or even the bright lights of the big screen. I recall teachers, neighbors, relatives whose impact on my development was positive and inspirational. There were so many of them, and they were oh so real. They were truly as courageous, generous and loving as they seemed to be. There was no trickery or illusion. They were the real deal, hard working people who quietly showed me how to become a responsible person in my own right. I watched them with the critical eye of a child and then a teenager and learned from them by example. I’ve never needed the moral dictums of movie stars or directors, because ordinary people have always been around to show me how to behave and treat others.

It is often said that children will do whatever they see the adults around them doing. I feel certain that that is true, because I often find myself emulating the behaviors of people that I admired long ago in my little corner of the world. My mother demonstrated unconditional love and acceptance each and every day of her life. Even when I was grown I often felt humbled by the generosity and selflessness that she demonstrated day after day without any thought of receiving thanks or praise. I had some incredible teachers who with their examples literally taught me how to be a good educator. Not any of the professional development that I have taken has ever been more effective than watching those inspiring mentors who encouraged me to love knowledge. I learned well what works in a classroom and what doesn’t from them. From my childhood neighbors I came to understand that we all live in a village in which we are keepers of one another. It is our duty to protect the people around us as much as we protect our own.

Perhaps more than anything I recall what I learned about being a woman, and those lessons were continually conveyed to me by other women who demonstrated strength and dignity in everything that they did. They showed me how to respect and protect myself. They made me aware of how to keep myself safe, and most importantly how to refuse unwanted sexual advances. I learned how to be aware of my surroundings and when to know that I might be in danger. They repeatedly helped me to understand my own importance in the world and let me know that I need never do anything that makes me uncomfortable. They gave me the tools that I have used to achieve an equal footing with my male counterparts without ever having to surrender my principles.

I feel for women who have been subjected to unwanted sexual harassment. My mother was a particularly beautiful woman and men were quite attracted to her. Sometimes they crossed lines in their behavior toward her, especially after she became a widow. She never allowed herself to be lured by promises or power, not even when she was struggling to keep up with the finances of leading a family alone. Still, she always felt such anger and humiliation whenever men attempted to take advantage of her. They always seemed to insinuate that she had somehow asked for the unwanted actions.

Why anyone would treat another human in such a vile way is beyond my comprehension, and yet we hear of such disturbing behavior again and again. Sadly it is not unique to men. It is sick and disgusting and yet we all too often see it happening and say nothing because we are frightened or simply don’t want to get involved. It’s up to each of us to not only be unafraid to report such things, but we have to get past the idea that certain people bring such incidents on themselves. We have a tendency to blame the victims of sexual violence more than we should. What’s even worse is when we assume that people from certain backgrounds are more likely to be lying whenever they step forward with stories of abuse. We need to listen to anyone with a story of sexual violence and then seek the facts that will ultimately reveal the truth. By the same token we need to be careful not to find someone guilty before we have all of the evidence that we need.

It is always shocking to learn that someone whom we trusted is not the person we thought him/her to be. What is especially sad is when many people know of abuse but look the other way. I tip my hat to anyone who has the courage to speak the truth no matter how powerful the offender may be. As a society we have to insist that nobody be given a pass regardless of who they are. Common decency and fairness requires us to be honest in dealing with abuse because our children are indeed watching. The messages that we send, the hypocrisies that we accept will mold their futures. We need to be certain that what they are seeing and hearing reflects the way we want them to one day be. The only way to curb the kind of behaviors that lead to powerful people believing that they can harm people with impunity is to bring what they have done into the daylight, and demonstrate that we will not tolerate such indecency from anyone. Right now we seem to have a long way to go before we set aside all of our false posturing and stand up for what is just.

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Ordinary Heroes

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Imagine that is it 1940, only a little over twenty years since World War I ended. Europe had been decimated by ‘the war to end all wars” as it was known. So many young men had been killed or maimed by the hideousness of trench warfare. Royal cousins had fought against one another in a seemingly unnecessary battle that left the common folk weary and eager for peace. In the midst of the rebuilding of nations along came Adolf Hitler with far reaching ambitions for making his country great again. At first the world stood back in stunned disbelief when he began a land grab starting with Czechoslovakia. By the time that he invaded Poland all of Europe understood that he had to be stopped. Britain joined other nations in agreeing to fight against the growing menace of German fascism. Thus in 1940, soldiers from Great Britain and France were engaged in a battle with Germany that had turned into a stunning rout, stranding 400,000 troops on the shores of Dunkirk with their backs to the sea.

It had been an inauspicious beginning to war for both Britain and France. At Dunkirk the soldiers from those countries were in retreat and things looked very bad. The Germans taunted the soldiers with flyers dropped from planes bragging that they had surrounded the Allies on all sides. The troops waited to be rescued and returned to Britain while being continually subjected to air raids from the Germans. They were like fish in a barrel. Added to the difficulty was the fact that big ships could not dock close to shore, so troops had to be ferried in small boats, a tedious and time consuming task. Even though the Brits were able to gaze across the channel and see the outline of home they may as well have been thousands of miles away. In that dark moment many wondered if Britain would be forced to surrender to Germany, leaving Hitler to overtake most of Europe with little or no resistance. It was an horrific possibility.

There are certain times in the history of mankind when ordinary people find the courage to do extraordinary things. Dunkirk was one of those moments. The British understood that they had to get their troops home safely at all costs or face the prospect of an invasion at home. The troops endured nine days of air battles that killed thousands of men, sunk ships and resulted in the loss of many Royal Air Force planes and pilots. It was a dispiriting time and one of the worst military defeats in the history of the country, but help game from a most unlikely source. When word of the disastrous situation reached the people of Britain an incredible thing happened. Fishermen and pleasure craft seamen sailed their boats across the channel to Dunkirk to assist in the rescue efforts. Many of them would become casualties as a result, but even more would bring hope and a way home to the thousands of soldiers who had all but given up any expectation of seeing Britain again.

It is a story of bravery and loyalty and love that Christopher Nolan has brought to the big screen with his usual genius. With an incredible cast, music from Hans Zimmer and sweeping camera angles the movie transports the audience into the tense and unnerving evacuation scene. It is an breathtaking film that provides the viewer with a birds eye view of both the fears and heroics of the soldiers and their leaders as well as the citizens who chose to risk their own lives to help their countrymen. Mostly it is a study of goodness overcoming evil, a subject that Nolan knows how to portray so well.

I haven’t been able to stop thinking about what happened at Dunkirk in a world that had quite evidently gone mad. I find myself wondering if those of us who live today would be able to muster the courage that the people of that era drew upon again and again until Hitler and his minions had been defeated. Would we have sat back helplessly or would we have been able to draw upon our inner strength to do what was ultimately right? I just don’t know. We seem to have somehow lost our willingness to confront evil. Maybe we have to literally be pushed to desperation before we will ever be able to rise up against the forces who bring so much violence and death to the world. We Americans certainly sat back watching even in 1940, hoping that all of the trouble would somehow just go away while we were safely an ocean away. Ultimately when we felt the sting of attack a couple of years later we too found the grit to join in the fight against an evil that had to be stricken from the earth. Maybe the truth is that none of us want to even think of war until there is no other reasonable choice.

I feel very uncomfortable with the state of things in the present time. We seem to have a president who is more worried about his reputation and popularity than with the needs of our country. We have citizens and lawmakers who are intent on fighting with one another rather than having genuine concern for the problems that plague us. I seriously wonder how we would fare as a people and a country if were we to suddenly find ourselves under attack. Would our dysfunction prevent us from doing what was necessary to save and protect our nation? Would we find a way to demonstrate the kind of determination to preserve freedom that the British citizens did back in 1940? Have we somehow lost our way, and if so will we ever be able to find our way back? These are the troubling thoughts that continually pass through my mind.

I would like to believe that in times of trouble we will be able to join together just as the people of New York City did after 9/11 and much like the citizens of Boston after the bombings at the marathon. Somehow I think that we as a people are in a state of lethargy, but our basic instincts to maintain liberty and justice at all costs still linger inside our hearts. I hope that if there comes a time when we are challenged just as our grandparents and great grandparents were we will find the determination that we need. I refuse to believe that we have all forgotten our role in promulgating the good rather than bad, love rather than hate.

Movies like Dunkirk are important. They draw on our emotions to challenge us to think. They push us to ask questions and learn from our human history. I recommend that all Americans who are over the age of thirteen see this film and take the time to educate themselves about what was happening in that time of long ago. Perhaps it will convince us of the need to consider what is really most important in our society today and to choose leaders who will help us to end our malaise, not further divide us.

Time and Place

7aea08a23754ac4ae7fb7ce0b0ca8567.jpgI was a very young child when my father died suddenly. I had a rather difficult time grasping the reality of the situation. For a very long time I had recurrent dreams in which he would return home, explaining that he had been on a long business trip. We were overjoyed to learn that he was okay and our lives continued just as they had before his fatal car accident. Sometimes even in the light of day I would have moments when I almost forgot that he was gone. I expected to see him coming through the front door smiling. Then I would remember what had happened and feel a sense of grief overtake me. Slowly but surely over a period of many months I adjusted to the reality of my situation and it was a painful experience filled with sadness and many fears.

Since that tragic time in my life I have endured other losses but none quite as surprising and gut wrenching as the death of my father. Nonetheless there were moments when I  dreamed of other loved ones who had died with such vivid reality that it seemed as though they really were still here with me. I would awake feeling disoriented and extremely disappointed upon realizing that my mind had played tricks on me. I suspect that my night time reunions with the departed were a kind of survival mechanism to help me ease into the stark realization that my world had dramatically changed and there was nothing more that I might do about it other than learn how to cope.

I have been quite weary since November. I still think back on the instant when it became clear that Donald J. Trump was going to be the next President of the United States and my mind goes foggy as though I am grappling with a concept that still has not quite computed in my brain. I was barely awake when his victory was declared at nearly three in the morning. I think that I actually went into shock. I remember seeing President Elect Trump’s face in those first moments and I believe to this very day that he was almost as surprised by his victory as I was. During those few moments when he first learned that he would be the leader of our nation he appeared genuinely humble and perhaps even a bit afraid. I almost wish he would stay that way but alas he has regained his old bravado.

I awoke early the morning after the election feeling groggy and a bit hungover, not from drink but from the brew of disbelief that still kept me from accepting what had happened. I fully expected to learn that I had only imagined that a man who seemed so singularly unqualified for the highest office in the land had actually won. In the days and weeks following I became engaged in a flurry of activity that included my birthday, Thanksgiving, Christmas and the dawn of a new year. I even lost my dear sweet cousin Jack to heart disease. All of these things kept me busy enough that I rarely even thought about the election or any of my fears of what might happen once Donald Trump takes the oath and becomes our head of state. It was not until the lights and glitter of the holiday season were tucked away that I began to think about what had happened. Amazingly I have yet to fully embrace the realities to come. Somehow I harbor the same disbelief that overtook me when my father died. I expect to learn at any minute that the whole election season had been an elaborate joke or a very bad dream.

I feel a bit weary from all of the back and forth and hatefulness that was so much a part of the election season. I’m very tired of the invective and bitterness. I’m ready to sit back and give the man a chance to demonstrate that he is not as ill suited for the job as I think he is. I grasp at moments when he actually assumes a presidential demeanor and try to give him credit when it is due. I don’t believe that writing him off before he has even begun will do our country any good. Self fulfilling prophecies rarely bring positive results. I tell myself that I need to be vigilant but also fair in judging Donald J. Trump and hope that he will prove me wrong. I would like nothing better than to witness him rising to the occasion and showing compassion and understanding for all of the citizens of our nation.

I am a peacemaker by nature, a diplomat. I believe in compromise and the power of finding points of agreement between differing camps. Deep down inside we all want a better world for our children. We unfortunately have conflicting visions of what that looks like. Sometimes the best answer to our problems is the one that takes into account everyone’s feelings. I worry that we are now so divided that we will automatically spurn offers of an olive branch even when it seems wise to give a little to get a little of what we want and need. Right now the knee jerk reactions from both sides of the political spectrum indicate that we are not yet ready to surrender our implacable points of view, which gets me to a pet peeve of mine.

I love to watch awards shows like the Grammys, Emmys, and Academy Awards. I enjoy the pomp and the celebrity of such celebrations. They provide me with an escape from the tedium of day to day realities, just as the artistry that they honor also brings me relaxation and momentary forgetfulness about the troubles that plague us. Fantasy has a way of helping us to cope just as the dreams of my father did. We want it to take us away from whatever is bothering us, not remind us of our worries. When we enter Disney World we become enchantingly entranced and leave our hurts and fears at the gate. So it is with music, television and movies. Our minds feel free as we momentarily forget whatever has been bothering us. When we honor the gifted individuals who give us the gift of their talents we want to be festive, not political. If we wanted to hear editorials we would tune in to Meet the Press or read the opinion pieces of the Washington Post.

During George W. Bush’s presidency the awards programming became boorish to me. It was almost certain that someone would launch into a tirade that I didn’t want to hear even if I agreed with the thoughts. It seemed an inappropriate time in which those of us in the audience were being held captive to points of view that had little relevance to the reason for the event. I slowly began to switch channels when such things happened and to be conditioned to not even tune in at all. For the most part these antics have disappeared in the last eight years because most celebrities were strong supporters of President Obama. Now I fear that the tactics will begin anew and I will have to abandon my viewing in protest.

I have always considered Meryl Streep to be one of the finest actresses to ever grace the silver screen. Many decades ago I listed her as my favorite star and that admiration has not abated over time. She is a gracious and supremely talented woman. I am well aware that she was a dedicated supporter of Hillary Clinton. I think she might even be a grand person to one day portray Ms. Clinton in a biopic. I deeply respect her political views as well as her disappointment in the outcome of the election because I am as stunned and worried as she is. At the Golden Globes she was given a well deserved lifetime achievement award. The acceptance speech that she gave was moderated and heartfelt but it was in the wrong place at the wrong time. A simple thank you to those who gave her this distinction was all that we needed to hear. There will be ample time and multiple places to more appropriately deliver her message. I would ask her and other celebrities to please just entertain us. We need our moments of escape and when we want to hear what they are thinking we will tune in to programming that is designed for discussions and opinions. We will read their tweets and ponder their editorials when they appear in the proper settings. We don’t want to hear lectures when our purpose is to pause from the irritations of life for an hour or two.

Celebrities must understand that we ordinary folk live in the big middle of the furor. We don’t have fences around our compounds. We have no cooks or cleaning ladies. We are our children’s nannies. We work hard and have very little free time on any given day. We have bills to pay and repairs to make. It’s not that we don’t care about the issues that are so vital to the artists who entertain us. It is only that we need a break now and again which is why we love the movies, shows and music that these gifted individuals provide us. When it comes time to honor the best of the best we want to see a celebration not a political rally. That is all that we ask. If they think about it perhaps they will understand.

Open Hearts

1ebff25909b8878c31424a09e6757466I was eight years old when my family and I went to the Trail Drive In to see Tammy starring Debbie Reynolds. I truly enjoyed that movie much as today’s young girls like to watch the programs on the Disney Channel. It was a wholesome and uncomplicated film about an innocent seventeen year old who finds love for the first time. I instantly learned the words to the song Tammy that Debbie Reynolds sang so romantically in the film and belted out the simple tune as I rode my bicycle around the neighborhood. Mostly I became an unapologetic fan of Debbie Reynolds after seeing Tammy and never lost my admiration for her even as the years went by and I became a well seasoned woman.

I often caught snatches of the conversations that my mother had with her sisters when I was a child and I knew that they highly approved of Debbie Reynolds. She was an all American princess in their eyes, as uncomplicated and lovely as the character she played in Tammy. One of my aunts often read a magazine called Confidential which was a precursor to The National Enquirer. I remember seeing photos of Debbie Reynolds in the pages of that publication with her husband Eddie Fisher. He was a singer and a heartthrob of sorts but I never particularly cared for him. Because I was still an uninitiated child I thought that Debbie had the most perfect life nonetheless and I wanted to be just like her one day.

Eventually a tremendous Hollywood scandal made the headlines. Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher had been close friends with Elizabeth Taylor and her husband, Mike Todd. They had even named their son Todd. When Mike Todd died suddenly in a plane crash a grieving Elizabeth Taylor found comfort from her good friends, especially Eddie. One thing led to another and the two stars wound up having an affair. Stories about the sordid incident seemed to be everywhere and of course my mom and her sisters were aghast by the turn of events as they whispered comments while they sipped on their coffee. I would have had to have been deaf not to hear them discussing how horrible the whole situation was and how much they felt for Debbie who by then was the mother of two children including a daughter named Carrie.

I loved Debbie Reynolds even more fiercely after that sensational scandal and thought of her as a brave warrior who somehow soldiered on even after enduring public humiliation. It would be decades before I would be able to forgive Elizabeth Taylor for her egregious behavior and I disliked Eddie Fisher forevermore. I was happy when his star power plummeted in the aftermath. He ultimately disappeared from the limelight and his tryst with Elizabeth was short lived, but Debbie continued to perform and remained beloved to me and her fans.

I was grown when I finally discovered the movie that seemed to most accurately depict the duality of sweetness and spunk that seemed to define the real Debbie Reynolds. Singing In the Rain became one of my all time favorite films. The casting was incredible and Debbie more than held her own with giants of the screen like Gene Kelly and Donald O’Conner. There are few scenes from cinema that are as iconic as the one in which she dances with her male co-stars and they all three end up tilting over a sofa. Her star quality shone through and that charisma would never die even after she left the silver screen for a quieter life.

Debbie Reynolds showed up from time to time in Las Vegas and on television programs like Will and Grace where she always seemed to light up the room but it was her daughter Carrie who would eventually become even more of a Hollywood icon than she had been. When Carrie Fisher played the role of Princess Leia in the Star Wars series she immediately became a role model for a new generation of little girls just as her mom had been for me. Carrie was beautiful and intelligent and showed the same spark of independence that her mom had always displayed. Young men across the world fell in love with her more feminist version of the ideal woman. She was an equal to the male characters who fought side by side with her against the dark side of life.

Carrie Fisher had a brilliant mind and went on to display her intellect and her sense of humor in the five books that she eventually wrote. She possessed a sometimes defiant honesty in which she told of her own demons and struggles. For a time she was estranged from her mother because of her willingness to so publicly speak of her life. She suffered from addictions and mental health issues and was never afraid to talk openly about them. She became an outspoken advocate for everyone who deals with the heartache and loss that comes from fighting for their mental well being. She understood that by admitting her own weaknesses she not only freed herself from their grasp but helped others who so often feel abandoned and alone in the battles against their cravings.   

The world was shocked to hear of Carrie Fisher’s death from a heart attack that she suffered while flying home on Christmas Day. Her many fans both young and old recalled the joy that she had brought to them. Her friends and family grieved for the giving and sensitive person that she was. Her mother Debbie was distraught and missed her beloved daughter immediately. Only one day later she too died, possibly from a stroke.

After my father was killed in a car crash at the age of thirty three my grandmother commented that she had lost her parents, many siblings and even a husband but the death of her child was the most difficult thing that she had ever endured. I watched her change from that day forward. She was a fighter who carried on but there was a shadow of sadness that seemed to follow her in spite of her efforts to smile and be optimistic. She spoke often and wistfully of my father and provided me with snatches of her own history as though she was preparing me for her own demise. Eventually she was diagnosed with stage four cancer and she died after a short but painful battle. Somehow I always felt that it was her broken heart that took her and I suspect that the same might be true of Debbie Reynolds. It is just so incredibly shocking and wrong in the grand scheme of things to lose a child.

I feel a profound sadness today as I think of the family of Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher. They will be dealing with a great deal of pain in the coming days and weeks and months. In the end the icons that we so worship as fans are just people like ourselves. They have brothers and daughters and close friends who love them and know them in the most personal ways, “warts and all” as my mother used to say. Behind all of the glitz and glamor of Hollywood are humans who experience the very same feelings that we all have. They give away much of their own privacy to those of us who fantasize about them and make them famous. We share vicariously in their triumphs and their tragedies but we never truly know them. We forget just how human they really are. The death of Debbie Reynolds just one day after her daughter reminds us of what matters the most in life. In the final analysis the most important thing that we do each day is to love and never forget just how fragile the human experience is. We can’t take a single day for granted because we never really know what our final destiny will be. We need to attempt to live with courage and open hearts like Debbie Reynolds and her daughter Carrie Fisher tried so valiantly to do.

Lessons From The Gang

ourgang4_xlargeBack when I was a child most of the local television stations filled the programming hours in the afternoon with old black and white movies usually of the B variety. I never saw many A listers in those films but some of them were surprisingly good and memorable. I grew to have a particular affection for the short Our Gang flicks featuring an adorably talented group of children known as The Little Rascals. I didn’t realize back then that the beloved characters and stories that I watched so eagerly were filmed back in the 1920’s and 30’s. Those kids were long grown up by the time that I was laughing at their antics. They represented life during very hard times for the world and overriding all of their mischief there was always a moral for how to live life to the fullest. Their tales and the lessons they taught were universal enough to the human experience that I still think about how much they influenced me.

For some reason one of the episodes of that long ago time has stuck in my mind throughout my lifetime. It featured a family of children trying desperately to find an extraordinary gift for their mother. The little ones did odd jobs to earn money but even when they put all of their savings together they were still shy of having enough to purchase the kinds of presents that they so desperately wanted to give her. Their prayers appeared to be answered when they encountered a big sale at their local department store. Even though there were limited styles and sizes being offered at the low prices they managed to find an entire outfit of clothing for their mom, including a hat and shoes. It was with great fanfare and joy that they presented their gift of love to her.

The final scene shows the elated mother walking proudly down the street ignoring the gaping stares and whispers as she greets her friends and neighbors with her head held high. The dress from her little ones is quite obviously several sizes too large and hangs dangerously from her shoulders ready to drop to the ground if she does not walk very carefully. The shoes are little better and the hat is quite ridiculous. Still the pride with which she carries herself and the smile on her face insures her children that she is enchanted by the outfit that they worked so hard to buy her. Her selflessness and gratitude radiates and the smiles on the kids’ faces tell a story all its own.

In this season of giving we have at times become all too expectant in our wants and desires. Madison Avenue has somehow convinced us that this should be a time for receiving a new car or very expensive jewelry or electronics. The spaces underneath our Christmas trees are often crammed with gifts that may or may not satisfy us or those to whom we give our offerings. Most of us would be unlikely to demonstrate the kind of appreciation for a misfit gift that the mom in that old production showed to her children. Instead of simply enjoying the thoughts behind the many gifts that we receive we all too often obsess over whatever may have been lacking.

My mother loved visiting friends and family at Christmastime. It was quite fun going from one house to another and viewing the Christmas decorations and presents under the trees. One lady that Mama knew always received professionally wrapped gifts from her husband. They were so lovely that I would have had a difficult time tearing the paper and bows apart to find out what was inside. There always seemed to be mountains of boxes just for her. I remember thinking how wonderful it would be if my widowed mom had someone to be so extravagant and thoughtful to her. She had to be satisfied with the small homemade things that my brothers and I gave her but her friend seemed to be feted like a queen. Ironically instead of being happy she complained every single year about how she would no doubt have to take everything back because her man had such poor taste. She insisted that it was a trial for her to even think of opening the presents because she was convinced that she would dislike them all. Somehow it never occurred to her how hard he was trying to please her. The attitude that she proclaimed seemed so wrong to me and I wanted to fuss at her but I was just a child and such lectures would have been wrong. Instead I told myself that I would never ever be so selfish.

A gift is far more than just the item inside a package. It is an outward sign that someone cares and has taken the time and the resources to show love. Regardless of how small, a present should never be taken for granted. Instead we should treasure the idea behind the offering. Someone in the busyness of the day has thought to make us happy. If we consider how powerful such an act is then we realize that it really is the thought that counts. 

My father read so many fairytales to me but the one that seemed to resonate the most was about a fisherman who caught a magic flounder. He was granted a wish if he agreed to throw the hapless fish back into the water. Knowing that his wife was saddened by the deplorable condition of the shanty in which they lived he asked that he receive a nice little home. When he returned from work that evening his wife was beaming as she emerged from a small but tidy cabin. When he told her how the miracle had come to pass she frowned and upbraided him for making such a small request. Instead of being satisfied by her improved condition she longed for more.

As luck would have it the fisherman once again caught the magical creature who offered yet another wish. This time he was more specific in requesting a mansion with lots of money to match the splendor of the house. By this time his wife was on to the game and she met him at the door railing that he still had not requested enough. She fretted that he might have done so much better and became ever more unhappy even in the midst of splendor. Of course as the tale proceeds the fisherman catches the fish again and again asking for more and more audacious gifts with each new opportunity. In the end the flounder decides to give the man what he needs rather than what he thinks he should have. The hapless fisherman returns home to find his wife standing in front of the shanty that had originally been their home.

In this season we would all do well to keep our desires within reason and teach our children to do the same. Learning how to appreciate the blessings that we have is crucial to finding the happiness that we all seek. The baby for whom the holiday was named was not a king or a man of power but a humble soul. We would all do well to follow His example and to remember the moral of the story of mankind that is repeated over and over again. It is in giving that we truly receive. It is in loving that we find the greatest joy.