Believing In Santa



When I first told my children about Santa Claus, of course I knew there was no actual human being I was talking about. But I told my children he was real and would reward them for being good.

I didn’t care how they envisioned Santa, for there are so many variations of his image, all so innocent in spirit, lighthearted and loving. It didn’t matter. I didn’t care how they imagined he spent his time at the North Pole with Mrs. Claus, the elves and reindeer. It didn’t matter.

We all understood that Santa was real in a different way than our friends and neighbors were real. He was real in spirit, and so we could imagine all sorts of things about Santa and even read conflicting ideas about his life and accept them all without difficulty. After all, nobody really knew for sure.

The specific details of Santa’s existence were not important. It was the underlying truth, that there are larger reasons for good behavior, reasons that could last for a year or even longer. Santa was a power for goodness in the world who would bless you for your honest heart and punish those who were cruel and deceptive.

As a grownup, I replaced the idea of Santa with knowledge. I knew that honesty, no matter how unrecognized it may be among friends and family, fills your life with joy, the kind of joy that is free from shame and guilt. I also knew that those who are dishonest and mean, no matter how long their actions may go undetected, are immediately punished for their sins because of who they become. They have lost the heart of an innocent child.

Heaven and hell are here, and those who are evil live in a hell of their own making, the hell of their own existence, no matter how long they avoid punishment from others.

In this dangerous and unpredictable world there are so many good people who are so unjustly punished by life, by disease, natural disaster, political oppression or just everyday happenstance. Earth is a place where all things are possible, both good and bad. It has something to do with free will. But if we struggle against adversity with an honest heart, we will find higher ground.

So my children grew up believing in Santa, even though they did not keep him firmly in mind throughout the year. But they grew up believing that striving to be honest and good was the right way to live. And even though some of the children they knew did not believe in Santa, they did not fight with them. Some believed, some didn’t. It didn’t matter.

Most of the children who believed in Santa needed no proof. They accepted Santa as a matter of faith, buttressed by the occasional Christmas morning miracle of the missing cookies and nearly empty glass of milk. When my children began to seriously question the existence of Santa, I took them to an old stone church and we sat in a beautiful, vine-encrusted alcove and I explained that Santa was more than just one single person.

I told them Santa was the spirit of giving that lives in all of us who find joy in bringing happiness to others. I told them every department store Santa who gave joy to little children was filled with the spirit of Santa. I told them every parent who wrapped up a special gift with a card that said, “Love to you, from Santa!” was inspired by the spirit of Santa. I told them Santa was more magic than they imagined, that instead of being just one person, Santa was the spirit of kindness and love that filled the hearts of millions, especially at Christmas, and that we should keep his spirit alive every day of the year.

I told them that as we grow up, many of us replace the idea of Santa with the idea of God.

I told them the best parts of all religions were filled with this spirit, and that this is what so many people mean by the word God, that God is a force for honesty, kindness and love in the world. I told them it does not matter how we picture God or how we define God. As long as we fill our hearts with love and charity, then we are doing the work of God here on Earth.

I told them words and pictures are what we use to help us understand the spirit of Santa, the spirit of God, but the words and pictures are not what’s important. It is the meaning behind the words and pictures, the inspiration that fills each heart.

We are all imperfect, we all make mistakes and we all have times in our lives when we are so certain about things that we become blind to our errors. To fight each other over ideas about God is like trying to prove whose idea of Santa is the real idea. To fight each other over ideas of God is to be so certain that we have become blind to our own imperfection and capacity for error.

I told them some people forget that these stories are about meanings, not details. They are intended to open our hearts and help direct the course of our lives. It’s the message that's important, and what it says to each of us.

I told them to respect the religions of all cultures, that whatever ideas of God people believe in, if these ideas open their hearts and lead them toward honesty, compassion and love, then they are on the right path – all of them.

The details are not what’s important. We all speak different languages and have different ways of describing and understanding things. It’s the essence from which all explanations come that is important. That’s what faith is for, to keep the connection strong between ourselves and God because words are not enough.

We all have to start somewhere. Some of us start with Santa. The important thing is to realize that spiritual growth is like any other kind of growth – it requires change. The lessons we learn as children are for children. The lessons we learn at the beginning of our spiritual journeys are for beginnings. To grow a larger soul, we must not get stuck. We must not stop. We must keep going.

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.

1 Corinthians 13:11





~ by Russ Allison Loar
~ Photo: Christopher & Joshua Loar with Santa
© All Rights Reserved




Christmas Blessings


















DearYolanda,


Thanks for the candle. You said you made it yourself?

I lit it last night after turning off the television, watching the flickering flame spark and dance so beautifully in the darkened room as I lay on the couch, slipping into that place between wakefulness and sleep where the angels whisper. As I listened, saying my prayers, mesmerized by the candlelight, I dropped off to sleep.

The next thing I heard was the plaintive wail of fire engine sirens as I startled awake to the smell of burning curtains. I'd left your beautiful candle too close to the window and the entire south wall of my house was engulfed in flames.

I shook my wife awake. We hastily grabbed a few things and rushed from the house. The firemen worked hard, knocking down the flaming wall to reduce the spread of the fire, but unfortunately the attic was also on fire. We had so many boxes of flammable stuff packed away up there the flames erupted like a thousand angry torches.

There was very little the firemen could do at this point, other than try and protect our neighbors' homes. The house closest to us (the east side) which belongs to the wonderful blind couple, did suffer some roof damage, but fortunately the firemen put it out quickly. After talking to our neighbors this morning, we learned they unfortunately suffered considerable damage to their carpet and furniture from the fire hose water and rain. Though we've known and loved this elderly couple for nearly 20 years, they said they can no longer talk to us, on advice from their attorney who we will be hearing from shortly.

Cheryl and I are now living at the Howard Johnson's in Pomona. It's not like home, and the people in the next room seem to be continually fighting and shouting, but it's the cheapest motel in the area. We found a few empty syringes in the bathroom, the carpet has quite a few nasty-looking stains and the wallpaper in this room is peeling, but we are just grateful to have a roof over our heads at this point.

I managed to get my laptop computer out of the house and I have internet access here, but it's hard to concentrate on this e-mail, what with the terror of last night continually replaying in my mind. This room smells like smoke, although it's probably coming from our own skin. My wife inhaled so much smoke she has to wear a breathing mask with a portable oxygen tank because of her chronic respiratory problems. We haven't had any sleep since the fire and we don't have any clean clothing.

I called the insurance company this morning and for some reason I had not received my renewal notice, so unfortunately I find that my homeowner's insurance has lapsed. I'm afraid this means our house and possessions are a total loss. We lost our cars in the fire as well. Because the electric garage door motor was wearing out and would not open in cold weather, we did not have time to get our cars out of the garage. The Mercedes was a few years old, so at least I got some fun out of that car, but it is unfortunate that Cheryl had recently purchased her beautiful new Lexus -- full payment in cash. We're hoping the discount insurance coverage for the car will cover part of the loss, but I do worry about doing business with a company based in Bolivia.

I'll have to take out a loan to have the debris of our once beautiful home removed so I can try and sell the vacant lot to a developer, but in these hard times for real estate, it will be practically impossible to get any money out of this property to make much of a dent in the amount I still owe on the home. I'm not sure if I can even get a loan at this point. Bankruptcy may be the best option for us. Unfortunately, we are still locked into a flexible-rate mortgage and our interest rate has risen to slightly more than 12 percent. We were barely able to keep up with the payments as things were.

I wish I'd made a backup copy of my book! I was really counting on this book to move my career forward. The only copies were on computer discs and paper -- all reduced to ashes. The main copy was stored on my desktop computer which was also destroyed. It's not the sheer length of the work that bothers me (about 280,000 words) as much as the length of time it took to do the research, what with all that travel to foreign countries that I'm still paying off on my Visa card. I'd never put this much work into a book before, and I'm afraid I'm too old to repeat what has been a 12-year labor of love.

We were hoping to sell some of the antique furniture and paintings we recently inherited from my family's estate that we'd stored in the house, but nothing is salvageable. And so many things accumulated from 35 years of marriage and from both of our families can, of course, never be replaced. I hate to think about all the wonderful photographs we'll never see again. At least we have our memories!

Unfortunately, our two cats died in the fire, and of course, my wife is devastated. One of them was the cat my son Christopher (who is coming to stay with us for Christmas) grew up with. He was so looking forward to seeing his precious little kitty, Mr. Toodles, again. We'll have to call Chris today and break the news.

After reviewing my current financial situation, I've decided the best thing to do is to try and rent a decent trailer home for the holidays, as there are a few mobile home parks in the area that are not as dangerous as some. We're going to try and find a mobile home with an extra bedroom for Christopher who is due to arrive in a few days. I'm afraid all his presents also burned in the fire, but we know he will understand. I suppose I should not have put all that cash in his stocking! It was a surprise down payment for a condominium. I foolishly thought it would be fun for him to see what $80,000 in cash looked like! I was surprised that I qualified for that home equity loan, although I suppose it was because of the high interest rate I'm being charged.

It certainly will be an unusual Christmas for us, what with all of our carefully picked, expensive presents destroyed by the fire. We will just have to focus on the blessings of life itself and be grateful that we did not die in the fire -- only a few second-degree burns and smoke inhalation, although I'm afraid I may have broken my ankle while rushing to get out of the house. It is quite sore! The paramedics bandaged it last night but I refused to be taken to the hospital. I just could not face an emergency room after all I'd been through. Cheryl and I will take the bus to the clinic today. I'm using an old umbrella for a crutch.

We will simply have to learn to be grateful for what we have left, even though it probably means total financial disaster. Cheryl and I now realize we will have to give up the idea of retirement and return to the workforce to try and rebuild our lives. I've already contacted Wal-Mart and they say they are hiring! A light in the storm!

So, once again, dear Yolanda, thanks so much for the candle! It was so beautiful and sweet-smelling, and, in fact, it was one of the few things I managed to salvage from the fire. I have it lit now, near the window of our motel room that overlooks the laundry area. It casts such beautiful shadows against the curtains.

Merry Christmas,

Russ




~ by Russ Allison Loar
~ Photo courtesy of the Bend Weekly
© All Rights Reserved

# 60:

When someone tries to anger you,
say to yourself: I am an ocean.
I cannot be moved.



~ Russ Allison Loar
© All Rights Reserved





Complete Honesty





I was an honest man when my father-in-law began to die.

It took me the first twenty-seven years of my life to become a consistently honest man, a scrupulously honest man. I was not a habitual liar, but I grew up wanting to stay out of trouble with my parents who were not of a forgiving nature, and so I lied. During my teenage years the fabrications multiplied as I tried my best to live free of parental rules and regulations. I didn’t lie to get anything in particular, I lied to stay out of trouble.

Do you realize what time it is young man?

I ran out of gas.

I started lying for personal gain during the early years of my marriage when money was hard to come by and even harder to hold on to. I would tell any number of tall tales about automobile repairs and broken-down refrigerators to convince my wealthy yet retentive parents that their money, so painful for them to part with, was at least going to some practical use.

I need $150.

What? More money? Again? We just gave you $400 to fix your car!

The refrigerator stopped. The repair guy is here right now. I’ve got to get it fixed so the food won’t spoil.

Then, one day, the lies stopped.

I was no less impecunious, but something happened that changed my perspective. I became a father. I began to question just what kind of father I would be in the eyes of my son. I knew what kind of father I wanted to be, and so I set out to become that idealized person. I had many weaknesses to address and redress, but the first, most important task was to become a completely honest man. Honest in all things, at all times. I knew the foundation of morality, character and wisdom had to be honesty. Without honesty life is a house of cards, susceptible to the slightest breeze of truth.

I began to test myself. If a waiter forgot to charge me for some item of food, I insisted that it be added to my bill. If a cashier gave me too much change at a store, I returned it. In fact, I paid particular attention to the most trivial transactions and interactions. I had much to atone for. And I was tested. An inordinate number of people dropped money from pockets and purses whenever I was around.

Clerical errors in my favor abounded. The kind of happenstance I constantly wished for during my most poverty-stricken years now occurred with peculiar regularity. I still do not know if this was an odd coincidence, a divine test, or just the sort of thing that happens all the time, a normal state of affairs which I became acutely aware of only because of my near obsessive desire to make amends for a lifetime of ethical lapses.

You only charged me for three of these cookies, but I’ve got four.

That’s OK. We’ll catch you next time.

No, please, let me pay you for this other cookie.

Don’t worry about it. It’s OK.

I cannot leave here without paying you for this cookie.

By the time I was forty-two, my honesty was habitual. A reflex. It must also be said that no being of human dimensions can achieve perfection, but I tried. I became prideful of the opportunity to display my honesty at every turn. In my professional life as a newspaper reporter, a career begun after my first son was born, I sought out dishonesty with a missionary zeal. I would recount the lies of various miscreants, their attempts to cover up their lies, their false claims of being misunderstood and quoted “out of context,” and finally their apologies. I was instrumental in destroying their reputations and shaming their families. They were ultimately responsible for their own behavior, but I was merciless. There’s no more fierce advocate for the truth than a reformed liar.

Former school superintendent Peter Snyder, convicted last year of embezzling $2.7 million from the Valley Unified School District, was stabbed to death in a San Diego County prison yesterday. “He was a good man who made a bad mistake,” said ex-wife Theresa Snyder who divorced her husband two months after his conviction.

~~~

Does honesty have limits? Should an honest person lie to avoid hurting the feelings of friends and family? Does honesty require you to tell your mother her new outfit is forty years out of date and her hairdo makes her look like Bozo the Clown? Surely we are not required to voice every subjective opinion in order to fulfill the requirements of honesty. A reluctance to express opinions and preferences, after all, is not a masking of truth, it is a refusal to engage in momentary, subjective assessment.

You’ve changed your hair.

How do you like it?

I think it brings out the real you.

And yet when it came to my personal beliefs, I never put the slightest tarnish on the truth. My late father-in-law, a physician, was a deeply religious man. Soon after I began dating his only daughter, I felt no reluctance in telling him just how medieval I thought his particular religion was.

How can you actually believe your religion is the only true religion?

We trust in the teachings of our church.

Did it ever occur to you that your self-serving religious leaders just might be wrong?

We have no reason to doubt them.

My wife and I were subsequently married without her parents’ blessings, and only over the course of years did my relationship with the two godly souls that were her parents, soften. Most of the softening came with the birth of my first son, their first grandchild. And so were we all changed by the miracle that is a newborn child. I learned to hold my tongue while simultaneously developing a genuine interest in the weather as a topic of conversation.

I returned to college and majored in journalism, a profession which is supposed to be about the truth. My father-in-law admired my determination to finish college while working odd jobs to support my family. He had entered medical school late in life after serving in the Army and knew only too well how hard it was to attend classes, study, be an attentive father and still earn some kind of living. My second son was born three years later, between semesters, and the bond between our families grew stronger. Religion was not a subject for conversation, but in all other matters, our relations became cordial.

About five years later, Grandpa Doc, as my father-in-law became known to our sons, retired from medical practice. He was a kind man who left many broken-hearted patients behind when he moved to the small Northern California town of Paradise. Yes, it’s actually named Paradise. Moving was his wife’s idea, for she was the font of all religious discipline in the family and believed the big cities would soon fall into chaos, what with the Second Coming nearly here. The small town of Paradise was indeed a beautiful, if not remote, place to live, but it left him bereft of friends and familiar landmarks. It was a cold turkey retirement. And a few years later, his isolation grew as his mental faculties failed.

And so Grandpa Doc traveled between comprehension and confusion, never fully surrendering to confusion, always fighting his way back for a while. I watched his struggle, and it was during our last visit when he asked me The Question. He was in the hospital and we were alone together. His wife had left the small, sterile room to get a drink of water and my wife went with her. He was lying flat on his back with only a small pillow under his head, confused, but not scared. He looked at me and smiled with the same unassuming manner that had always been his way with patients, especially when broaching the subject of bad news.

How does it look? Do you think I’m going to pull through?

He was counting on my honesty, asking me to confide in him. As a physician, he was only too aware of the fiction of reassuring words from friends, family and medical professionals who have decided the patient is no longer in a sufficient state of mind to process factual information. But this was one of Grandpa Doc’s clear moments and he wanted to know the truth. He figured I was the most likely person to give it to him—straight.

And what was the truth? Could I really predict the future? Was I medically qualified to give any kind of diagnosis, much less prognosis, to this man so cruelly cast adrift by old age? Of course, we all knew that his condition was not reversible. But how could I tell this religious man there would be no miracle for him?

Torn between the obvious and the miraculous, given this grave honor of rendering some kind of truthful information to a man momentarily clear enough to want to know what was really happening, I put my hand on his shoulder, smiled, and summoned my best imitation of the offhand remark, my best imitation of his own reassuring beside manner.

You’re doing OK. You’ll pull out of this. You’ll be going home soon.

He looked into my eyes and at least for a moment, he knew the truth.




~ by Russ Allison Loar
© All Rights Reserved

# 121:

I am a Peter Pantheist.
I have a childlike belief that
everything is a component of God.



~ Russ Allison Loar
© All Rights Reserved





But Seriously Folks



Thank you ladies and gentle worms. Tonight, I’m going to start out with a tribute to all of you. That’s right, a musical tribute to human beings.


{Sleazy lounge singer voice}

♪ Hey there!
Yes you there!
Didja know there,
That you’ve got:
Two legs,
And you’ve got:
Two arms,
And you’ve got:
Two brains,
Inside your head, yeah! ♪


Needs a little work.

But seriously folks, I just want you to know I’m a believer in clean comedy. Yeah. Clean comedy. That’s my thing. Clean comedy.

So, these two bars of soap were walking down the street and they’re having a really heated argument. This one bar of soap is getting furious—out of control. So the other bar of soap says, “Hey! Don’t work yourself up into a lather!”

Oh yeah, it’s clean!


(Rim shot)

I was just talking backstage with legendary comedian Buzzy Vava Voom. He just flew in from a 37-year run at Joey Knuckles' Steak and Stein in Lost Wages, Nevada, and boy is his airplane tired!


(Bass drum hit)

“Buzzy,” I said, “what’s the secret of your success? How do You be funny?”

Buzzy says to me, “Kid, don’t get too personal with your humor. Nobody wants to hear about your personal problems. So if you really hate your wife, don’t do wife jokes because the audience will see that you really mean it and they won’t think you’re funny.”

So, taking Buzzy’s advice about keeping my personal life out of my humor, for those who have seen me perform before, I won’t be doing the bit about the wacky arsonist, the naked parking attendant, or the bit about falling in love with grandpa’s cow.



(Muffled laughter)

There was this guy with a big penis who walks into a bar, sits down on a barstool and orders a beer. The bartender slaps the beer down on the counter and the guy with the big penis hands him a twenty dollar bill. A couple of minutes later the bartender comes back and gives him a five dollar bill in change and says:

“We don’t get many guys in here with big penises.”

The guy with the big penis looks at the five dollar bill, looks at his beer, looks back at the five dollar bill, then looks at the bartender and says:

“How come?”


(Sustained, awkward silence)

“But seriously folks, you know, my wife is such a bitch . . .”



~ by Russ Allison Loar
© All Rights Reserved