Homeless Santa  

Posted by Brock Booher

Merry Christmas!

Here's another failed attempt to win a short story contest, but I enjoyed the story and think you will also. Comments and criticisms are welcome. Have a very Merry Christmas!

Homeless Santa

“Look Dad! It’s Santa!” said my four-year old daughter Rylee in a hushed tone of surprise and reverence. I looked up from serving soup in the homeless shelter and saw an old man with a bushy white beard holding a soup bowl. Santa was in a homeless shelter!
I smiled and poured him a large scoop of hot soup. “Did anybody ever tell that you look exactly like…”
“…Santa Claus? Yes, because I am Santa Claus,” he said finishing my sentence for me. His face was blank. No jolly laugh. No twinkling eyes. No ho, ho, ho.
I glanced down at my daughter and saw a look of concern come over her face. “Don’t worry. He’s not the real Santa. The real Santa lives at the North Pole and is a jolly old elf,” I said trying to comfort her.
“Ho, Ho, Ho,” he replied with a deadpan look as he took his soup and moved on. I continued to serve soup to the others, but couldn’t take my eyes or mind off of the Santa look-alike as he sat and somberly ate his soup. When I finished serving, I sought him out.
“Feel better after the soup?” I asked.
“Like a bowl full of jelly,” he replied evenly without smiling.
“You know, I am sorry that life has been hard to you, but you didn’t have to burst my little girl’s bubble. She still believes in Santa Claus.”
“Well, I am Santa Claus.”
I chuckled. “I know you look like Santa, but…”
“…Santa Claus is just a fictional character to bring magic to Christmas,” he said mockingly. “You see, you don’t even believe in me, and yet you lecture me on not bursting your little girl’s bubble.”
My face flushed with a touch of anger and shame.
“Most people don’t believe anything they can’t see or touch anymore. How can you believe in the miraculous birth of the Son of God when you can’t even believe in Santa Claus even though he’s sitting right in front of you?” he asked earnestly.
“I guess you’ve got a point,” I mumbled as I stood to go. “Merry Christmas,” I said sheepishly as I walked away.
Over the next few days the conversation with the homeless Santa troubled me. What should I do? How could I help? He was right, I didn’t believe in Santa, but I did believe in helping my neighbor. So when my boss asked for Christmas party suggestions, I got an idea!
I told everyone at my office about my encounter with homeless Santa and asked if we could sponsor him. We could take up a collection to buy him new clothes, and a few Christmas presents, and he could come play “Santa” at our company party. Everyone loved the idea!
I spoke with the director of the homeless shelter and made all the arrangements. Everyone contributed generously and the company matched our efforts. We got him new clothes, shoes and a winter coat. We found a small private shelter and paid for three months rent. We bought a month’s worth of food and stocked his shelves. We were all excited about helping him as the day of the Christmas party arrived.
It was a wonderful night! Homeless Santa came dressed for the part with the traditional red suit, black boots, and bag full of toys. He was the life of the party as he gladdened hearts with his rosy cheeks and his hearty “Ho, Ho, Ho!” He had a magical touch with children, and my daughter Rylee beamed as she sat on his lap. By the end of the night, we all believed in Santa Claus.
As the party finished and we gave him our gifts, he cried openly at our generosity. We joined him, but they were tears of joy. Everyone called it the best Christmas party ever!
That Christmas Eve, Rylee and I put out milk and cookies for Santa and waited together by the fire in my big leather chair. Of course, we both fell asleep long before the clock struck midnight, and missed our chance to see Santa. But the next morning the cookies and milk had been replaced with a note –

“Inasmuch as you have done it unto the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me.”
Thank you for believing in me!
Santa Claus
(P.S. I moved back to the North Pole.)

© 2009, Brock Booher, All rights reserved

Gifts Not to Give Your Spouse  

Posted by Brock Booher

I had an Air Force buddy that had an interesting arrangement with his wife. At Christmas time he would buy a present for himself and give it to her, and she would buy a present for herself and give it to him. One Christmas she got a shotgun and he got a sewing machine, and they were both very happy. I have always considered that an ingenious technique to keep you out of the gift-giving doghouse.

Since you are all probably reading this blog in between shopping online, or while you take a break from wrapping presents, I know you will appreciate my lists of gifts not to get your spouse.

A new lawnmower (even the riding type)
A new dishwasher (unless it comes with a lifetime commitment to do the dishes)
Any device for removing body hair
Exercise equipment (unless they ask for it more than five times)
P90X DVD’s (unless they ask for them more than ten times)
A book for your wife titled “Confessions of an Organized Housewife”
A book on anger management
A book titled “Become the Husband Your Wife Always Wanted”
Any apparatus used for cleaning up after others
An iron or ironing board (see note about dishwasher)
Any massage paraphernalia that they will be required to use on you
A wig or toupee
Any “regifted” gift that you received from your spouse
Gift certificates from Hooters
A one-way ticket
Any gift with the wrong name on it

Often gifts like these are loaded with subtle (or not so subtle) subliminal messages, and when the receiver of such gifts decodes the message, you may be in for some marital trouble. Feel free to add to the list and help keep us all out of the gift-giving doghouse!

May I Wish You a Merry Christmas?  

Posted by Brock Booher

I recently wrote a short story for a contest, but then realized that it wasn't what they were looking for. I enjoyed writing the story anyway, so here you go...

May I Wish You a Merry Christmas?

Dan methodically entered the subway car and settled in for the thirty minute ride home almost oblivious to the passengers around him. He loosened his tie and began catching up on a few emails on his mobile device as the train lurched ahead. As he read the email titled “Holiday Observance Policies”, his jaw tightened, his temperature rose, and he felt a strong surge of indignation.

The email contained the usual legalese that cautioned employees to replace phrases like “Merry Christmas” with “Happy Holidays”, or “Christmas Tree” with “Holiday Tree”. He wanted to scream! Who are the idiots that come up with this nonsense? Why do we have to walk on eggshells when it comes to a declared national holiday? It is Christmas, and I should be able to say Merry Christmas to anybody I like! Great, he thought to himself, it’s not even mid November and I’ve already lost the Christmas spirit. He bowed his head and said a silent prayer.

As he raised his head he looked around at the other passengers as if really seeing them for the first time. The diversity of his fellow subway passengers reflected the diverse city it traveled through. He noticed a Jewish man, and a Muslim woman, and even though not all passengers displayed their faith openly, he was sure that various religions were represented in that small subway car as it hurried along the tracks.

The words “Love thy neighbor” echoed in his head melting any remaining anger. Instead of resentment for his “different” neighbors, he felt a desire to reach out to them and teach them about his feelings towards Christmas. Gathering his courage he walked carefully to the front of the moving train.

“Can I have your attention please,” he shouted with a big smile on his face. A few looked up, but most ignored his request and kept their attention on their phones, papers, or books.

“May I wish you all a Merry Christmas?!” He paused momentarily. “I know that it isn’t politically correct to say that, because according to some brain-dead lawyer it might offend someone. But I ask you, are you offended if I wish something good for you? Are you irritated because I hope for a better life for you? Do you feel insulted because I want to express my love for mankind to you by wishing you a Merry Christmas?”

Dan looked at the Jewish man who had put down his book and listened. “You sir, are you offended if I wish you a Merry Christmas?” The Jewish man shrugged and replied, “According to history, Jesus Christ was a Jew. I don’t believe he was the Son of God, but I certainly don’t take offense that you honor one of my ancestors. Happy Hanukah by the way,” he said politely. Dan smiled and nodded a thank you.

Turning to the Muslim woman Dan asked, “Do you take offense if I wish you a Merry Christmas?” The woman looked cautiously around at the group who at this point were listening intently. “Christmas is not a Muslim tradition, but the prophet Muhammad fasted along with the Jews on the Day of Ashura, so why can’t I celebrate a holiday that promotes peace on earth and good will to men?”

“How about anybody else? Whatever you believe or don’t believe, do you take offense when I wish you a Merry Christmas?” asked Dan loudly yet cheerfully.

“In Hindu we celebrate the birth of Lord Rama, so I view Christmas as a similar celebration,” said an Indian man in a business suit.

“Merry Christmas and Happy Kwanzaa man!” shouted one of the black teenagers in the back of the car with a big grin on his face. “It’s all cool!”

A businessman near the door put down his paper and said laughingly, “I don’t believe in God, but I get lots of gifts and treats from my Christian friends during Christmas time. What’s bad about that?”

Dan smiled as everyone laughed and several conversations began among people that before were strangers making their daily commute home. He went around the train and wished each individual a heartfelt Merry Christmas. As he sat down he felt the Christmas Spirit more than ever because he had followed what Jesus had taught – he had loved his neighbor, in spite of their differences.


Thank a Veteran  

Posted by Brock Booher

While I was in the military I didn't appreciate Veteran's Day like I do now. While still on active duty it often meant a parade detail or some sort of official function while everyone else was enjoying a day off. I guess I became a little jaded. Perhaps I felt that way because I viewed my own sacrifices as light or nonexistent when compared to those who lost life or limb. I didn't, and still don't, feel worthy of the praise that we rightly shower down on those who sacrificed so much on our behalf.

As a nation we should be very slow to go to war. We should seek every possible avenue to avoid the bloodshed and carnage that inevitably is part of armed conflict. We should endeavor to persuade our potential enemies by all the means available to us, and even be willing to accept a few political "black eyes" to avoid the bloodshed.

However, when and if we do decide to wage war, we must wage it to win!

I have never been a big believer in "limited warfare". The concept seems irrational to me. If the cause is worth waging war over, then let us wage it in all earnestness and with the full weight of our conviction behind it. Once we cross the line from heated verbal exchanges to armed conflict, we should release the "dogs of war" until victory is achieved. Too often "limited warfare" leads to a "limited victory". Too often a limited response cheapens the lives of those who have volunteered to sacrifice on our behalf.

John Stuart Mill said,

“War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things: the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks nothing worth a war, is worse. When a people are used as mere human instruments for firing cannon or thrusting bayonets, in the service and for the selfish purposes of a master, such war degrades a people. A war to protect other human beings against tyrannical injustice – a war to give victory to their own ideas of right and good, and which is their own war, carried on for an honest purpose by their free choice – is often the means of their regeneration. A man who has nothing which he is willing to fight for, nothing which he cares more about than he does about his personal safety, is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself. As long as justice and injustice have not terminated their ever-renewing fight for ascendancy in the affairs of mankind, human beings must be willing, when need is, to do battle for the one against the other.”
John Stuart Mill (1806-1873), “The Contest in America.” Harper's New Monthly Magazine, Volume 24, Issue 143, page 683-684. Harper & Bros., New York, April 1862.

Right now a soldier is putting their life in harm's way for you and for me. They do it for Democrats, Republicans, and Independants. They do it for hippies, yuppies, and generation X. They do it for Wall Street and Main Street. They do it for the common working man, and the tycoon. They even do it for those who protest against them. But best of all, they do it voluntarily.

This Veteran's Day, let us give thanks to those who have sacrificed and continue to sacrifice on our behalf. May we be worthy of the gifts they purchased us with their blood.

One Hundred Years  

Posted by Brock Booher

My daughter had an interesting homework assignment last night. She had to write a paragraph about what the world would be like one hundred years from now. A lot can change in a one hundred years.

The last one hundred years certainly brought a lot of changes. The automobile replaced the horse and buggy. The cellular phone replaced the telegraph. The high definition television replaced the radio. Email replaced the letter. Air travel replaced the train and the cruise ship.

Several deadly diseases no longer pose a threat. Vision can be corrected with a surgical procedure. The mysteries of the genetic code are being solved. The average life expectancy has increased by over twenty years.

Yes, a lot could change in one hundred years, yet a lot will remain the same.

I predict that in one hundred years, peace on earth will still be just as allusive as it is today. Because the lust for power, white-hot anger, and man’s inability to forgive a neighbor will still be with us. War will still be with us.

A hundred years from now diet, exercise, and taking care of yourself will still be the best way to live a long and healthy life. Because the temptation to overeat, drink alcohol, or ingest various other harmful substances will still be with us. Health problems brought on by personal choices will still be with us.

A hundred years from now crime will still plague society. Because lying, thievery, and murder will still spring from the hearts of humankind. Criminals and police will still be with us.

A hundred years from now the family will still be the most important part of society. Because the basic desire to love and be loved is an innate part of what it means to be human, men and women will find a way to build a loving relationship and produce offspring.

A hundred years from now truth will still be true. Truth will not change with changing times. The advice to forgive others their trespasses, love thy neighbor as thyself, and do unto others as you would have them do unto you, will all be true in one hundred years, one thousand years, one million years, and for eternities.

A lot can change in one hundred years, but the basics of human nature and the truths that govern our interactions with one another haven’t changed in eons.

Of Mice and Moms  

Posted by Brock Booher

This week I reread the classic John Steinbeck story, Of Mice and Men. After reading it, I realized that a story I recently wrote had a lot of similarities, but then again we all experience similar things in life as time goes by. We all age. We all deal with sickness and imperfection. We all deal with the questions of life and death.

I had to deal with the question of life and death this week as well.

No, it wasn’t while I was flying. No, I didn’t stop an attacker at gunpoint. No, my dog did not need to be put down. I had to kill a mouse.

It seems that some mice thought our house was nice, and decided to take up residence in the wall behind the refrigerator and help themselves to food scraps in the nearby pantry. My seventeen-year old son, Cody, met them face to face last night around midnight when teenage hunger pains led him to the pantry as the mice were feasting on our food. To his credit he didn’t scream like a girl and wake us up.

So this morning I begin the process of cleaning out the pantry and looking for mice. At first all I found were mouse droppings, but as I pulled the last large can away from the wall a tiny mouse began running back and forth in the back of the pantry! I was startled at first (I didn’t scream like a girl either), and then I called on my two trusty Shitzu attack dogs to come and rid our domain of this disease-ridden rodent.

Kai and Kneesa came running, but instead of attacking, they watched the mouse with great interest as he ran behind the fridge. They seemed to be saying, “Wow! Would you look at that mouse! Man he sure is a fast little guy. I wonder if he would like to play with us? Hey little buddy, where are you going? Come back and play!”

Don’t ever buy Shitzu attack dogs.

After cleaning and disinfecting the pantry, I purchased some glue traps and put them in just the right spots to catch the invading vermin. Later this evening as I came in from Carson’s baseball game, Kati informed me that one of the traps had already nabbed a little furry felon.

Now the drama of life and death began.

My wife Britt hates the thought of killing anything, even little furry rodents. After she made me promise that I would not let the mouse suffer, she went upstairs in tears.

I carried the trap with the offending creature outside not letting my daughter follow me. I guess my wife’s tears gave me a twinge of guilt and I didn’t want anyone relishing in the death of one of God’s creatures. As I prepared to end his pitiful little life quickly, I could see the fear in his eyes and see the panic in his demeanor. As his little brown eyes looked up at me I remembered the Steinbeck story and the necessity of death and its inevitable outcome. We carry the powers of life and death within us everyday, but seldom do we exercise those powers. We certainly should never exercise them indiscriminately or without compassion. Life is a gift. Death is sometimes merciful.

I kept my promise. The mouse did not suffer... but he also did not live.

A Gemstone Called Friendship  

Posted by Brock Booher

Amy Grant sings a Christmas song that puts “Every man would have friend”, on her grown up Christmas list. I must admit that a multitude of the world’s problems would be solved if that Christmas wish were granted. Friendship is a gem that is hard to find, difficult to mine, and must be painstakingly cut and polished over time to reveal the beauty within.

I am blessed with many friends. They make my life richer, my sorrows lighter, and my joys more pronounced. The lighthearted laughter, the kind words of encouragement, the unfettered sympathy offered by friends gives life a smooth and easy texture.

My “gypsy” lifestyle makes it difficult sometimes for me to keep up with friends and the important happenings in their lives. I find myself skimming across the surface of relationships because I am often in some distant hotel room when I have a friend in need. Like a skipping stone I cover a great deal of distance, but only lightly touch the surface. But unlike a skipping stone, a successful friendship is not measured by the number of times it can skip across the surface, but by the depth of the impact. A good friend is more like a big rock that drops deep into the pool of our life and sends happy ripples cascading across our soul.

I watched my Mom and Dad develop deep friendships over the years. It happened slowly. The friendship gemstone was cut and polished slowly by the joys and tragedies of their lives. They took time to carefully strike the stone at just the right time and at just the right angle. They lovingly polished rough spots to make them sparkle and shine. What started as a rough stone of acquaintance became a shimmering treasure of friendship that continues to brighten many lives.

Find a friend. Be a friend. Let us work together as friends to cut and polish the common treasure so that we can reveal the beauty of a deep and lasting friendship.

Parenthood - Burden or Bonus?  

Posted by Brock Booher

Today is my oldest son’s twentieth birthday. I guess you are waiting for the comments where I sound like the “old guy” – “I remember the day he was born just like it was yesterday…” Well, I do remember it like it was yesterday, but that is not the point. Remembering isn’t the key. Reliving doesn’t make it special. Relishing in the relationship is what gives the memory and the hope of future memories deeper meaning.

It is hard to be a parent. Anybody who is a parent will tell you that. Since it is human nature to complain, when parents talk to other parents, it sometimes sounds like parenthood is made up only of selfless drudgery, never-ending control battles, and tolerating countless displays of ingratitude. Like most, I have been guilty of focusing on the negative aspects of being a parent and treating it more like a burden than a bonus.

David O. McKay said, “No other success can compensate for failure in the home.” Truer words were never spoken, yet the weight of the task doesn’t have to make it drudgery or burdensome. No greater happiness can be found in any other endeavor than the noble calling of parenthood. Healthy family relationships are a wellspring of happiness and fulfillment available to both prince and pauper, but only if we treat them as such.

Sometimes my kids tell me I’m a mean Dad, and sometimes they’re right. I focus too much on trying to “teach” and “correct” and not enough time trying to “touch” and “connect”. The burden of the parental responsibility and my fear of failure keep me from enjoying the relationship and drinking deeply from the wellspring of happiness found in the family. I try too hard because failure at home is the worst failure of all.

So to all the parents out there, next time you find yourself feeling the burden of parenthood weigh you down and you find yourself in a gripe session - consider the alternative. Stop. Instead, talk about the joys and the simple pleasures that are found only in the family. Talk about the funny things your children say and do. Share the times when they have lifted you up and taught you. Explain how you have felt as you quietly sneaked into their room and watched them sleep.

I have six wonderful children. They bring me immeasurable joy and happiness. I always look forward to seeing them after work – even when I come home from a trip and complain because the pool is green and nobody noticed. They make my life better, and I don’t tell them that often enough.

Happy Birthday Rian! I am sure you and your siblings will bring me joy for many birthdays to come.

Coming of Age  

Posted by Brock Booher

Recently several young men in my neighborhood have returned home after serving as LDS missionaries for two years in various parts of the world. The change in their stature, demeanor, and composure was remarkable. They left as boys becoming young men, and returned as men.

John Steinbeck said, “A boy becomes a man when a man is needed.” These “boys” left the comfort of their homes and willfully volunteered to serve others – strangers in a strange land. They did it in an environment filled with structure yet very little oversight or supervision. The task required manhood and they grew to meet the requirement.

My oldest son is currently serving in the Philippines and I can tell through his emails that the tasks he faces daily require more than a boyish commitment. He, like the other boys, is meeting the requirements of the task at hand and will return a man.

This “coming of age” scenario takes place everyday in various different ways and by diverse means. Everyday girls and boys accept the challenges of adulthood willingly or as they are thrust upon them by circumstance. They become women and men because life requires it. Shielding them from life’s requirements only delays and hinders their journey into adulthood.

What do those of us who have accepted and fulfilled life’s adulthood requirement do to continue to “come of age”? Are we developing new talents or skills? Are we finding ways to give back to our families, communities, and country?

Once I visited a dying neighbor in a nursing home. She was sleeping when we arrived, but the woman in the bed next to her was knitting and welcomed us into the room. My wife asked if she had been knitting long, and she replied that it was something she had recently taken up. “I can still use my hands and I can still do something!” she said with a smile. She was still “coming of age”.

I think life is meant to be lived, and I hope I am always “coming of age”.

Sacrifice and Socialism  

Posted by Brock Booher

This past week I met a very interesting limo driver in Pittsburgh. He had been a navy corpsman for several years and had worked with several injured veterans in his day. He felt frustrated that the current political focus was on the health-care crisis.

“Our real crisis is that we’re fighting a two front war, and nobody seems to notice!” he said.
Jim felt that our society has placed more value on celebrity, and less on value on sacrifice. I couldn’t agree more.

We must place more value on the individuals that are sacrificing on our behalf, or we will become a cynical and self-serving society. We may also find that fewer and fewer are willing to make those sacrifices. What will we do then? What freedoms, pleasures, and indulgences will we give up? The answer is simple – all of them. But we won’t give them up. They will simply be taken from us by those who are willing to sacrifice for their cause.

That begs the question – what causes are you willing to sacrifice or die for?

As he grabbed my luggage out of the trunk and I said goodnight, he had a pained and puzzled look on his face. He felt that there was little he could do to turn the tide. I couldn’t disagree more.

My seventeen year old son and I were having lunch together this week and talking about his Eagle Scout project. The conversation turned to ‘his generation’ and what it values. I told him that I might be an “old guy”, but I knew I could hold my own against his generation because they lack backbone (or initiative). Surprisingly, he agreed.

His generation has grown up “satisfied” (also read complacent) with life. Everybody got trophies. Everybody was a winner. Heaven forbid that anybody struggled with something and learned from the struggle. How can kids learn their strengths and weaknesses unless they are revealed in the struggle of life? How do you discover what causes you are willing to sacrifice for or die for unless there is a struggle?

So, friends, parents, and countrymen, lend me your ears. We can turn the tide if we allow the struggle of life to teach us and our children. Failure reveals character and talent.

That is the failure of socialism – it removes its members from the struggle and protects them from failure. It numbs its members to the pain of failure and the subsequent revelation of character and talent.

Soldiers will sacrifice themselves for the good of their unit. They will sacrifice themselves for their homeland. They will sacrifice themselves for freedom and liberty.

Would you sacrifice your life to establish or uphold a socialistic state?

Not me.

May we honor those who have honored us by giving their all.

To Blog or not to Blog - That is the Question  

Posted by Brock Booher

When did it become necessary for us to share our emotional baggage, pigheaded opinions, and mundane experiences with the entire digital world to be considered “connected”? I know that many of you who have been blogging for years took offense to that sentence, but it is the question I have been asking unanswered since blogs began.

I keep a haphazard type of journal to record my experiences and the attached personal emotions that I connect to them, but I don’t really want anybody reading them until I am good and dead. You see I think that when we begin to share our “personal” feelings online, we sometimes are careful with our words and subconsciously hold back because we know that people won’t wait until we are dead before reading them. Hence the question – Do people really express their deep personal thoughts on blogs? Probably not, because if we really unloaded our emotions of the moment like we would in a journal we would inevitably be judged by that moment without the long view of our life’s history. Let me explain.

My wife and I recently celebrated our 21st wedding anniversary. I can honestly say that I love her more today than the day we got married (You are the best dear XOXOXO!) However, I could read you excerpts of my journal that would contradict my previous statement. In fact I once wrote a pointed (mean-spirited) letter to my wife while I was angry and depressed. When I calmed down and we discussed it (I apologized : )), she handed me back the letter and said I could reuse it since I seemed to get angry about the same things all the time (Ouch! But how true!) You see, she had the long view and did not judge me by the moment of temporary insanity (That’s why I love her!). I had the good sense to laugh and also recognize that the emotion of the moment did not carry the day.

Sometimes we need to have a constructive outlet for emotions that we know will not be judged by others until we have gone all the way of the earth. In my opinion that outlet is not a blog.

Blogs should be a place where we can tell our story, or at least our version of it. We should share those feelings that others can relate to and learn from, but without unloading our darkest emotional secrets. We should try to give people a window into our soul, and hope that others will feel more connected to us because we have done so.

That is what I will try to do with this blog.

Oh BTW, I still have the letter, but I haven’t had to use it since!