Now that’s the Spirit of Giving


Christmas is traditionally the season of giving, but at the age of twenty-two I was more into receiving. That is until the day a girlfriend of mine asked me to play Santa Claus for her brother, Glenn. Gayle told me that he was “beginning to ask questions” about the existence of Santa Claus and she and her family wanted just one more Christmas that Glenn was a “believer.”

“Would you mind dressing up as Santa Claus and convince him otherwise?” she asked me.

I didn’t think it was such a great idea. I was no actor. I was thin as a rail at six-feet-one-inch and 170 pounds, and I had realized by age seven that Santa did not exist. Hey, deal with reality, kid.

But when you are only five weeks into dating someone and you want to keep it going, you tend to bend your principles.

“Yeah, sure,” I said. “But I need some girth.”

“Oh, don’t worry,” Gayle said. “We’ve got a great costume and plenty of padding, and the beard is guaranteed to stick if he tries to yank it off.”

Later that night Gayle sneaked the costume to my car and I returned the next day – Christmas Eve – with every intention of putting on a grand performance.

Just after 6 p.m. I pulled up to her house but several cars were parked in front, so I drove a hundred feet or so past her house, parked and got out.

As I cut across a neighbor’s property, owned by the Mays, I saw their family of four – one dad, a mom, two sons, and two grandparents – seated at table in their dining room celebrating Chanukah. That’s when I got a magical idea: Why not sneak up alongside the dining room window and let the boys get a glimpse of Santa during a Jewish celebration. How often has that happened?

As they ate, they faced the window and I figured only they would see me. I was correct. When one kid looked up from his plate I gave him a quick wave and tugged on my bushy white beard. His eyes widened and he nudged his brother. I waved to him too and when I did both boys yelled, “SANTA.” The parents seemed puzzled, but they were not looking in my direction so I ducked out of sight and scampered through the yards to Gayle’s house. There I put on a first-rate act for her brother and I was told that Glenn remained a “believer” for one more year.

It felt good having done Gayle and her family a big favor, but I always wondered about the two Jewish boys I had spoofed. Years later my sister was going out with Gayle’s brother, Billy, and though Gayle and I no longer saw each other, I’d go over from time to time to see the family.

One December afternoon I pulled up to Gayle’s house and I saw the two brothers tossing a football on their front lawn and I decided to make conversation. They were about eight and nine at the time and I told them that they had pretty good throwing arms.

“But you need a better football,” I said. “This one’s pretty ratty and it’s low on air.” Then I added the setup line: “Make sure you tell Santa to bring you a new NFL football.”

“We’re Jewish,” the older boy said.

“Oh, then I guess you don’t believe in Santa?”

“We do, we do,” he replied. “We saw him a few years ago right over there.”

He pointed to the dining room window.

I was touched that they had remembered that night long ago, so a couple of weeks later I had a brand-new football gift wrapped and sent to their house a few days before Christmas. It was signed, “Santa.”

I never saw the boys after that. They have long grown up. But I’m sure somewhere there are two Jewish men in their fifties who still believe in Santa, no matter what the naysayers might have told them.


Two inspirational books that ought to adorn every bookshelf


Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom and Life without Limits by Nick Vujicic are two of the most inspirational books today. Each tells the story about a man who has to overcome immense physical and emotional challenges by digging deep down to find a positive reason to live life to the fullest. The books differ, however, in their scope. Tuesdays with Morrie covers myriad themes about life while Vujicic’s literary effort is chiefly a call for accepting the life dealt us then maintaining a positive attitude the rest of the way.

In Tuesdays with Morrie, college professor Morrie Schwartz learns that he has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) at age 77. His body will be reduced to a lump of putty and he will require others to take care of his every need. His biggest fear, he admits, is that “someday somebody’s going to have to wipe my ass.” Morrie can no longer teach, dance or be the supportive husband he once was. His disease will kill him within two years and he must learn to adapt to his new existence yet keep a positive frame of mind. He does so by forging new friendships and teaching people how to live through his writings and televised interviews.

Life without Limits is the story of Nick Vujicic, an Austrailian who was born 31 years ago withouts legs and arms and has since overcome — to a major degree — his tetra amelia syndrome. Vujicic’s condition, however, brought on deep depression, rage. and the belief that he was doomed to the loneliest of existences because he could not imagine any woman would have him as a husband. However, he eventually marries and now has a family.

While each book tells the story of incredible men under incredible circumstances, they do differ significantly. Tuesdays with Morrie touches on myriad topics as Morrie tries to give readers a heads-up on what a life well lived ought to be. Life without Limits, meanwhile, explores fewer life themes, but does so in more depth.

Mitch Albom, a Detroit sportswriter and a former college student of Schwartz, asks his old professor if he’d consider writing a book about his final days. Morrie accepts the offer but insists the book’s focus not be about dying, but rather about living. Together they tackle countless themes: feeling sorry for oneself, regrets, death, family, emotions, aging, money, love, marriage, forgiveness and culture.

By contrast in Life without Limits, Vujicic concentrates on fewer themes about life, but delves into them on a more profound level, offering more detailed anecdotes. Along the way, Vujicic implores readers to accept life as it comes and just get on with it. He also advises young people to follow their hearts and stay clear of those who do not have their bests interests in mind.

Tuesdays with Morrie and Life without Limits are compelling reads for those who are looking for inspirational books. Given a choice, it might be difficult to select just one.