Monday, December 31, 2012

Christmas Meteor


At our house, Christmas strikes like a meteor.  Not one of those sneak-up-on-you-out-of-left-field, wake-up-one-day-and-discover-a-meteor’s-coming-for-lunch kind; no, this is one of those you can always see coming, the kind whose progress you can follow as it tracks its way towards you.  But it looks so distant and so tiny for so long that it fails to register any alarm (in fact, I can already see next year’s meteor way out there in space, twinkling innocuously).  By the time you’re ready to start taking it seriously, of course, it’s too late.  That accelerating ball of rock is looming over you in the sky, trailing fire and smoke, dropping its advance shadow on your house, and you look up knowing there is nothing that can deflect its weighty mass from smashing into you. 

At our house, the moment of impact is the same every year.  6:00 p.m. on Christmas Eve.  We have a tradition of hosting a Christmas Eve party every year, a tradition that goes back to Elizabeth’s parents, both of whom have since passed away.  The party, however, lives on, in the same house (now our house) where it’s been happening since about 1982 or so. 

Anyway, six o’clock is it.  That’s when all preparations must cease.  In years past, we have sometimes had a few moments to spare, when we would huddle together as a family in the eerie quiet, looking around in nervous anticipation, waiting for that meteor to explode all over us.  The past few years, however, we’ve been attending Christmas Eve service at our church, and so miss out on that fleeting, weird tranquility, which is no big loss.    

The meteor’s arrival is marked by the muted thud of car doors closing.  Within seconds of that, the first of many shockwaves comes blowing through our doors.  Within mere minutes, we are swept away by a surge of friends and family, pulled apart and lost amongst a roiling sea of merry-makers, often losing visual contact with each other for half-hours stretches at a time, even though we are all contained in three connected rooms within the same, modest ranch-style house.  There may be fifty or more of us on any given Christmas Eve, bumping and ricocheting and pardoning each other, and a fair number of children, who, with an art long forgotten by us adults, weave nimbly through a dense forest of moving grown-up legs. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A brief history of lemons and lemonade


If the internet is to be trusted, it was Dale Carnegie (famous lecturer and author of How to Win Friends and Influence People) who first coined the phrase, “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.”

Today, Mr. Carnegie would be called a motivational expert or a self-improvement guru, but he was born ahead of his time, and so is simply referred to as a writer and lecturer.  Mr. Carnegie was one of the first people to realize that the essentially American combination of constitutionally protected freedom plus disposable income equaled one hell of an opportunity to profit from our long-standing obsession with self-improvement.  His book How to Win Friends and Influence People has sold 15 million copies since it was first published in 1936.  Lord only knows how many more copies have been pilfered from public libraries over the years.  He was a pioneer of sorts, paving the way for the modern self-improvement industry, which took in 11 billion dollars in 2008, according to Forbes.  Compared to the home-improvement industry, which had revenues estimated at 250 billion during the same year, this may not seem like much; but remember, people are generally much smaller than houses, and need to be reroofed far less frequently. 

Many people don’t really understand the important role lemons have played throughout human history.  Sure, most of us probably recall learning in elementary school about how lemons were used by sailors to prevent scurvy.  Interestingly, they never said how they used them.  Maybe they kept the lemons in their pockets, or rubbed them on their bodies, or hung them around their necks, like garlic was used to ward off vampires.  Personally, I have a hard time believing that they or anybody else would just eat raw lemons.  Scurvy can’t really be that bad, can it?  Still, it’s fun to imagine a bunch of pirates as they come swinging over the side of a captured frigate with their eye patches and their bandannas and their parrots, raising their swords aloft and then suddenly exposing bright yellow lemon smiles, the way kids like to do with orange wedges.  After all, if there was anything pirates were known for more than their lack of vitamin C deficiencies, it was a finely-tuned sense of the absurd. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Monday, December 10, 2012

Goodbye to a Good Man




For those of you who met Kent Yoder through the guest post I published here back in June, I have the difficult task of informing you that Kent died on October 27th, 2012.

He battled prostate cancer for more than a year before the disease vanquished his body, and in doing so, freed him from his body’s terrible confinement.

Kent was 49.  He had been married to Janelle for eleven years, and in that time fathered a son and a daughter.  As I trust in God’s grace, they will all live on and do amazing things.

I last saw Kent the weekend before he passed.  I went along with our friend Rick to see him in a hospice facility.  We spent some time with Kent, and Janelle, and a few others who came through to see him.  He looked nothing like the Kent of just a few short months before, which was nothing like the Kent of a short year before that.  His body looked like that of a concentration camp victim.  He had that same ageless, ancient look that I remember from photos I would show my sophomores each year when we read Elie Weisel’s Night together.  As with them, it appeared that it was only the spirit of the man inside that prolonged the life of his body, and prevented it from crumbling to dust on the spot.

I took a copy of the Bible, and a collection of Gary Larson’s Far Side cartoons with me when we went to visit him.  If that seems like a strange combination to bring to a dying man, well it just felt right, knowing Kent to the extent I do.  Inside the Far Side book I tucked a copy of the lyrics to Bridge Over Troubled Waters.  I don’t know why.  I guess I was just thinking about what might comfort me, if it were me instead of him.