Tag Archives: helping others

Inspired by the paradox of Christmas

stockings hung by fireplace

Ready for Christmas.

By Bruce Stambaugh

Make no mistake. The celebration of Christmas is a paradox. It always has been, and likely always will be.

I sensed that conundrum even as a child. Amid all of the glitz and glamor, the singing and shopping, all was not right with the world. Even in my limited adolescent life encounters, I saw extravagance and excess rub shoulders with poverty and despair.

As a young person, I had trouble reconciling such diametrically opposed situations. That didn’t prevent me from tearing into my presents, emptying my bulging stocking hanging by the fireplace, or enjoying the scrumptious meal our devoted mother had fixed.

We celebrated the season of sharing at elementary school, too. Before the classroom party, we often made simple decorations that I later volunteered to deliver to a local nursing home.

I’m not sure how much cheer the painted plaster ornaments or the looping strands of colorful paper chains gave the residents lying helpless in those hospital beds. The scene certainly left an indelible imprint on my young mind and soul.

rural church

Old church.

I took seriously the Christmas message of a different kind of king ruling my life. Growing up in the shadows of World War II and in the daily doings of the Cold War, I felt the chill of unsettled political consequences. I didn’t pretend to understand them.

I just knew my heart, mind, and soul were open to something better, more meaningful, more fulfilling to not only me but also those I encountered. The Christmas story awakened in me as it did the shepherds eons ago.

As I grew and more fully understood that precious bit of history mixed with lore, wonder, and interpretation, I more clearly saw the point of Christmas. Life is full of contradictions, uncertainty, disappointment, hypocrisy, and greed. My duty was to counter the bad with the good wherever and whenever I could.

That belief guided my life. It stirred my career in education. It thrust me into community service via fire and rescue and as an elected official. I enjoyed helping people, and still do. I receive great pleasure in assisting others in need.

I’m no saint, however. I know I made mistakes. I am human. But I did what I could, working with those around me to get things done, mostly for the benefit of others.

So here I am nearly seven decades on this earth, still applying, still pondering that Christmas story of long ago. In so doing, I loathe that others are denied the privileges that I enjoy simply because of their beliefs, their skin color, their economic status, and their dire situation only because of where they live.

Citizens in Aleppo, Syria, Frakes, Kentucky, and Millersburg, Ohio know what I mean. Folks everywhere are hurting, and all the Christmas hoopla doesn’t always heal their hurts. The avalanche of carols, merriment, and partying might even inflame those problems.

The holidays can depress people more than they already are. They miss loved ones who passed on too close to Christmas. I can identify with that, too, having lost family and friends during the holidays.

Christmas display

Christmas joy.

Christmas is a time to ponder. It is an eternal gift that is unwrapped daily. A genuine gift of Christmas celebrates while serving, gives while receiving. It corrects injustices.

If you know a person who is down-and-out for whatever reasons, send them a card. Call them. Visit them. Feel their pain. Hear their cries.

Those are but a few reasonable opportunities to explain and experience this paradoxical holiday we call Christmas.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2016

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Filed under Christmas, Christmas deocrations, family, history, holidays, human interest, writing

A practical way to give thanks

By Bruce Stambaugh

It was only appropriate that for a full week after the first snow of the year that we experienced a perfect Indian summer here in Ohio.

The extended summer-like days, which seemed to actually improve chronologically until the rains came, served as a picturesque bridge between a superb fall and an inexplicit winter yet to come.

We can only wonder what winter will be like. Will it be as harsh and record breaking as the last? We hope not. Clearly we have no say in the matter.

Snowfall in Ohio's Amish country by Bruce Stambaugh

Snowfall in Ohio's Amish country totaled three feet in February 2010.

Every fall the National Weather Service issues a long-term guesstimation of what winter will bring. But even the scientists hedge their prognostications on percentages, casino like.

In the end, we have no choice but to take what we get. Hushed by the holiday clamor, a certain question lingers unspoken. Will we appreciate what we receive? In truth, that question can and should be applied far beyond the realm of weather.

I remember well the winter of 2004-2005 when the infamous ice storm nailed our area. The accumulating ice snapped giant trees, brought down power lines, halted commerce, interrupted communications, and thinned traffic to emergency purposes only for days.

Those of us who were on the electrical grid were hit hard. Fortunately, an Amish friend saved my family and me with the use of a generator to at least keep the gas hot water heat on. Without the generator’s assistance, the pipes in our home would have frozen and burst, causing extensive damage. Thankfully that did not happen, due to the unconditional generosity of my friend.

All the while, with our communication to the outside world cut, thousands upon thousands of people were caught in the wake of a horrific earthquake and subsequent tidal waves that killed scores of people.

In sorting through an overflowing basket of mishmash the other day, I came upon some handwritten notes I had made about the catastrophe. Apparently, I did so while listening to a battery-operated radio. In reviewing my scribbling, I was reminded that the inconvenience of living without electricity for five days paled in comparison to the plight of millions of fellow human beings halfway around the world.

A sampling of my jottings, dated Dec. 26, 2004, relived the calamity: Banda Ache, 60-foot wave, two miles inland, 30 mph, eight-12 feet deep flood; deaths, 200,000 in Indonesia alone, 400,000 injured; no system to alert people in Indian Ocean rim; 9.3 magnitude earthquake, the world’s deadliest tsunami. Unfortunately, those initial notations proved accurate.

Once power was restored the horrible scenes unfolded on television. I was appalled for the victims, thankful for my family that we had only lost power and a few trees in the yard. Compared to the widespread wreckage and unbelievable totals of death and injuries of so many innocents, we had been fortunate.

Tracks in the snow by Bruce Stambaugh

Horses made serpentine tracks in the heavy snow last Feb. in Holmes County.

Since then, infinite natural and man-made disasters, including the sluggish global economy, have occurred. Others will likely continue to develop as time progresses. Nevertheless, as we begin this holiday season in North America, we still have so much for which we can be thankful no matter our personal situation.

This Thanksgiving perhaps we can express our gratitude by simply helping the less fortunate. We may not have to look clear to the Indian Ocean rim for those opportunities either.

Maybe, just maybe, a proactive generosity can be an Indian summer bridge to brighten someone else’s rainy day life. That would be a practical, productive and prudent Thanksgiving.

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