This Christmas Has Never Come Before


It's the days before Christmas that I find myself mired in a mix of emotions. How can it be another Christmas has come so quickly, how can it be that another year has flown by? But isn't this the mystical beauty of Christmas? It is a sacred marker on our lives, an immutable timetable that inspires us, guides us and lifts our spirits as we rejoice in the season. 

What got me thinking about this was reaction to a story I wrote recently about a friend of mine visiting his older brother in a facility for people with Alzheimer's. I'm proud of the story, but more importantly I am proud of my friend. He showed a side that was beyond what many of us had ever seen before; warmth, kindness, caring and the ability to step outside himself and comfort the lives of others. 

So I find myself thinking about all this just a week before Christmas, because in essence, isn't this what Christmas is really about? Lifting ourselves above the ordinary, stopping for a season undergirded by faith, love and reaching out, reaching beyond the ordinary day to day of the rest of the year to say that there is something higher, more joyous and more uplifting that links us all.

It is Christmas. 

I'm writing this a stone's throw -- my house is just a short walk away -- from Crestline Village in Mountain Brook, AL where I know in just an hour or two shoppers will start scurrying about, working their way down the list of presents for family and friends. The quiet I enjoy while writing is a stark contrast with what goes on outside of my space. And the hustle bustle of real life, especially this sacred time of year. But these people aren't just shoppers, they are people. With struggles, lives and complexities. Who knows what challenges they have had to face over the past year?

Yet, it's almost as if I can feel it. It's Christmas time, the lights are up, plans are in the works, the world is slowing down, college kids are already home, the schools are out and I'm scratching my head once again, too late of course, as to what should I get for my wife this year. 

However, as I think about presents I really think about all the presents I've gotten this past year. They’ve come from the experiences I've had writing about others; meeting people brave enough to open their lives up to me and having the privilege to understand them and write about their triumphs and challenges. Never was that more evident than the recent story about my friend. 

So, Christmas, here I come. I've been struggling because I've wanted to write a Christmas story. "What's left to say about Christmas?" I've been asking myself. And then it occurred to me: everything. Christmas, like the birth of Jesus whom it celebrates, is born anew as the season recurs and so are we. Merry Christmas to all of you. 

David and Goliath

We all have our own Goliaths that can haunt us and sometimes we find our Davids where we least expect them.

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Stinging Fears

“Trotter, what is it with you and wasps and snakes and bees?” a friend asked.  I had canceled a lunch date with him a week earlier at the last minute, because I’d been attacked by a swarm of wasps and had to rush to the doctor.

“You know what I think it is?” I told him, “Distraction.” 

I’m not paying attention.  I’m thinking about other things.  My mind is preoccupied, especially lately; it is coming from aging, urgency and fear. 

I ruminate too much about my son’s future. He’s a special needs kid who is now 22-years-old.  It’s often overwhelming because everything is coming at me in terms of thinking about what I have done and what I need to do to ready him for his journey into adulthood.

 “Where’s he going to go?  What’s he going to do? Who will take care of him?” These are the kinds of questions that dart across my brain and through my heart over and over.

I’ve always worried about him. But these last few years it’s become more intense. There’s a shorter window.  I just turned 65.  And all of a sudden I don’t have as much time to plan and protect and provide.

I’m a worrier by nature.  It’s been that way as long as I remember.  And then after almost every worrying episode,  I look back and say, “Why was I worried about that?”  I worry even though I know that worrying usually serves no purpose; it just drains the energy you have and gets in the way of focusing on what’s real and what needs to be done.

So back to the wasps, snake and the other mishaps that seem to plague me more than anyone I know.  I worry about money, so I do things to save money — things that I am really not qualified to do.  

My wife Anne, my financial advisor and my attorney tell me we are fine financially — and there will be enough money to take care of my son.  Yet, I know people are living longer, and I worry all the time that Anne and I are going to outlive our money and in the end won’t be able to provide what my son needs.

Anne says, “Get somebody to put in a new screen for our porch.” I tell her I can do it myself; she rolls her eyes and gets agitated.  I fall off the ladder, crack my rib and have to go for x-rays. And wind up paying more in medical bills than I would have spent on someone to replace it.

I was bitten by a snake because I stuck my hand deep into an outside drain trying to clean it.  I should’ve called a plumber to do it.  Luckily, the snake didn’t have time to sink all of its venom into me though the fang marks were there.  

My arm started swelling but I was determined to go about my business. I called a friend just to chat and casually mentioned something had bitten me. He happened to know a lot about reptiles and told me to text him a picture of my arm immediately.  Seeing the picture, he told me I’d probably been bitten by a copperhead.  “You better get to the emergency room,” he said. I did and, thankfully, all turned out okay.

On the day of the broken lunch date mentioned above, I was cleaning a rug.  I washed it and put it outside to dry, hanging it on a treehouse from when my son was a kid.  After a while, I went out to get it.  

I climbed the treehouse steps, grabbed the rug, shifted my balance and felt a sting.  I looked up and saw I was in a swarm of wasps.  Sting! Sting! Sting! I literally jumped off the treehouse — it’s about 10 feet off the ground — and ran toward the house. The wasps were in my pants, under my arms, in my shorts, and on my neck and face. Dead wasps were falling out of my clothes. I wound up with 20 bites.

I called the doctor in a panic and the nurse told me what to do.  I was scared because I’m allergic to bug bites. As a kid, I almost died after being stung by 13 yellow jackets.  Good thing a doctor lived across the street at the time. He came over and treated me. But I’ve lived in fear of wasp and bee stings ever since.

I’m preoccupied.  Too preoccupied.  I’m nervous and anxious much of the time and trying to save money in stupid ways. 

So what do I do?  I’m a 65-year-old man inhaling fear. I’m lucky in many ways. I have a great wife, good health, and a son with a heart and a smile as big as you can imagine. Yet,  I feel lost at times, and detached, and gnawing at me is the likelihood that my next mishap is right around the corner.  

I tell these stories to friends and family; they always bring laughs and chuckles. They are funny and something out of a sit-com, I admit.  But they are becoming less funny to me and, as I continue to wrestle with life these days, they sting.