Last week, according to some interpretation of the Mayan calendar, the earth should have come to an end, as the north and south poles shifted, creating devastating earthquakes. I made a point to check outside before writing this story and I am glad to report that the end of the world once again has been greatly exaggerated. A report in the New York Times once said a similar thing of the great American writer Mark Twain. He concludes much as I did after looking outside, that the report of our death has been a greatly exaggerated.
This year, the death of the Encyclopedia Britannica has come to pass. Unfortunately this report is true; the publication is discontinuing it printing after 244 years. The age of electronic information has made the bulky collection of books obsolete. I remember growing up and spending time looking through the books from volume A to the last Z. The once common reference book has died and few took notice. I would guess if you were to ask a child in the first grade, "What is an encyclopedia used for?" They would use the internet to find the answer.
As I look at a list of events that came to pass this year, it is hard not to notice all the pain and suffering that has happened around the world. The events that we see on the nightly news that define 2012 often seem far away from our valley. But thousands of lives around the world are lost and forgotten as we go about our daily lives seemingly to not notice.
This year as in the past, Mother Nature demonstrated how cruel she could be in the destruction of lives and property across our country. As we sit in our warm home, there are many in the northeast whose lives have been forever changed by a storm named Sandy. Many are still searching among the wreckage for lost memories as the New Year's Eve Ball drops not far away in New York City.
The terrible pain and loss a short time ago at a school in Connecticut will linger far beyond the days of this year's calendar. That loss and its senselessness leave us all with no answers to understand why. We can only offer prayers to those who lost someone that day. We can hope that someday healing will begin for the greatest of all losses, that of a child.
As I looked down the list of events that define the past 12 months, I noticed that not one word on the list is of the loss of a single American soldier. Not one word to comfort families who feel the pain of a loved one lost and little to remember except for the empty pain. No mention of the men and women who come home with broken bodies and empty souls. Since soldiers were first sent to the middle-east nearly 6,600 have died since that day in September of 2001.
My wife and I received a Christmas card from friends a few days ago. My wife sat at the table reading the card without saying a word. As she finished she held it toward me. On the outside was a typical Christmas scene. As I opened the card I saw a printed message on the inside. I sat down and began to read the words. I want to share the words contained in that card with you since yesterday was Christmas.
Twas the night before Christmas, he lived all alone, in a one bedroom house made of plaster and stone. I had come down the chimney with presents to give, and to see just who in this house did live. I looked all about, a strange sight I did see, no tinsel, no presents, not even a tree.
No stocking by mantle, just boots filled with sand, and on the wall pictures of far distant lands. With medals and badges, awards of all kinds, a sobering thought came into mind. For this house was different, so dark and so dreary, the home of a soldier, now I could see clearly.
The soldier lay sleeping, silent, alone, curled up on the floor, in this one bedroom home. The face was so gentle, the room in such disorder, not how I pictured a United States soldier. Was this the hero of whom I'd just read? Curled up on a poncho, the floor for a bed?
I realized the families that I saw this night, owed their lives to these soldiers who were willing to fight. Soon round the world, the children would play, and grownups would celebrate a bright Christmas Day, They all enjoyed freedom each month of the year, because of the soldiers, like this one lying here.
I can't help wonder how many lay alone, on a cold Christmas Eve in a land far from home. The very thought brought a tear to my eye, I dropped to my knees and started to cry. The soldier awakened and I heard a rough voice, "Santa don't cry, this life is my choice: I fight for freedom; I don't ask for more, my life is my God, my country, my corps." The soldier rolled over and soon drifted to sleep, I couldn't control it, I continued to weep. I kept watch for hours, so silent and still, and we both shivered from the cold evening's chill.
I didn't want to leave on that cold, dark, night, this guardian of honor so willing to fight. Then the soldier rolled over, with a voice soft and pure, whispered, "Carry on Santa, it's Christmas Day, all is secure." One look at my watch, and I knew he was right. "Merry Christmas my friends and to all good Night." The verse was written by Lance Corporal James M. Schmidt.
I turned over the card; it was produced by the Disable American Veterans. As we move into the New Year I ask you to remember and be grateful for what we have in this country and the sacrifices of the men and women who each day put their lives in peril to making ours a little safer.
Let us all look toward 2013 with hopes that it may be a better year for us all as it soon will begin Thru the Lens.
(Editor's note: Read about Chuck Clegg's new book, Return of the Gunboat, on page 8B of this week's paper.)