One of the things I love about the holidays is some of the great history that comes along with it. I’m an absolute sucker for the History Channel’s documentaries on the stories behind Halloween, Thanksgiving and, of course, Christmas.
The old photos, newspaper clippings, engravings – there’s just something so amazing to not only learn how these traditions we know today came to be (many of which are not what we think), but some of the most iconic moments to come about throughout them.
That’s why I’m so in love with the story of the “Yes, Virginia” letter from 1897. In fact, I even did a reading of it when I was working in broadcasting when I was anchoring the news on Christmas Eve last year. It’s just another one of those things, like my soft spot for “Miracle on 34th Street” that fill you a wonderful feeling of why, whether you’re young or old, a good dose of belief in goodwill and representatives of it, such as Santa Claus, make life a lot less dreary.
When eight-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon was beginning to doubt the existence of Santa because of peer pressure from her friends, she took her father at his word that if it’s in the New York Sun, ‘it’s so’ and wrote a letter to the editor of the paper in 1897. That letter read:
“DEAR EDITOR: I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, ‘If you see it in THE SUN it’s so.’ Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?” – Virginia O’Hanlon, 115 West Ninety-Fifth Street.
The response was printed as an unsigned editorial on September 21, 1897 and was penned by veteran newsman Francis Pharcellus Church. Since that time, it’s become a part of American folklore at the holidays, and has become history’s most reprinted newspaper editorial, appearing in part or whole in dozens of languages in books, movies, and other editorials, and on posters and stamps.
Church published his response as follows:
“VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.
Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.
Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.
You may tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.
No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.”
What a wonderful response. Maybe I’m partial because of my journalism past and I love the idea of a media outlet coming out with such a response to not only support, but boost her belief. It’s the way it should be. In a day and age when it seems so easy to be unhappy or unkind, isn’t it nice to show kids (and us adults), that there’s a little Santa in all of us?
I think so. 🙂
You have no doubt seen somewhere, be it television, newspapers, or the internet, the story of BatKid saving San Francisco-turned Gotham City from the likes of The Riddler and The Penguin this week.
If you haven’t yet heard about it, take a second and Google “BatKid” and read a few stories about it and come back.
No worries. I’ll wait. I’ll even have a cup of tea while you do so.
(((sip of tea. moment to ponder. another sip of tea.)))
Okay, you’re back. Pretty wild stuff, right?
There’s not much I can add to this. Writers, journalists, photographers have covered pretty much every angle of the day. All I want to say is that I can not, for the life of me, think of a comparable time when I’ve seen that many people gather together on a mission of goodwill and making a child feel like a hero. Not only that, but my Facebook newsfeed blew up that day with people sharing links to stories, photos, and just generally being excited that this kid’s wish to be Batman came true. It came true courtesy of the Make-a-Wish Foundation and many, many volunteers and supporters. That last word is key though – supporters. You can throw all the money in the world at something and it may not resonate with anyone.
What is it about this young boy, this dream come true to be a hero, that led so many people to take part, stand in the streets in support, or just generally get excited and invested in his heroics that day?
It gives me a little hope for the world. I’m often accused of being much more cynical as I age than I was a decade ago., but something with all of this just struck a chord. Maybe, just maybe, we’re not all the judgmental, polarized, cynical, hopeless lot that so many come off as day in and day out. Could it be that deep down we all want to feel the joy that comes with seeing a five-year old save the day? That inside, we want to have that sense of triumph that was felt that afternoon when young Miles stopped The Riddler and foiled a plot by the Penguin and was then given the key to the city?
I say yes. We do. But don’t let it stop there. Don’t bottle up those feelings now that the event is over and the news stories begin to die down. No, no! It’s like people who only open their hearts at Christmas.
Rip them open, my friends! Find that hope once again, believe in a better world. Why? Because what’s the alternative? Five year old Miles is a hero and gained the support of a city and a nation. Isn’t it time the rest of us started living every day with our hearts open and were heroes as well?
At one point, the Brit talked about how the perception of what success is, is vastly different in America than in some other countries. I found it fascinating. He talked about how here, in America, we say that ‘everyone has the chance to win the race,’ but then said that by the very definition and nature of a race, not everyone CAN win.
There is the adage of wanting to have your cake and eat it too, an adage which our American culture seems to proliferate. ‘You can be a great parent and be a great CEO,’ ‘you can be a great author and be a great family man,’ but the radio hosts were saying that in most cases, that’s just not possible. By putting all of yourself into one thing, you automatically are not putting your all into something else, therefore, neglecting it, even if slightly.
Before the program ended, the question was raised as to just who was determining what success was, asking whose goals it is that we are working toward – ours or the ones that others have created for us? Are we working toward something because we truly want to, or because someone (whether it be individually or culturally) has told us that’s what we need to do.
It’s a bit like I said when I signed off of broadcasting – it’s not about how much money you make, what you do for a living, what religion you are, how many Facebook friends or fans you have. Those are determinations of success that have been created by others, yet pushed onto so many people via a ludicrous culture with misguided priorities.
All this got me thinking about how my own life’s priorities have changed over the years.
When I was 9 years old, I made no bones about telling everyone that I would one day be working as an animator, putting a love of drawing to work every day.
Years later, in college and for some time after, I would have said nothing was going to stop me from becoming a successful screenwriter and filmmaker. However, I made a conscious decision that I didn’t want to pack up my life and take that leap away from my loved ones.
Time went on. I turned my writing background to journalism. I wasn’t going to be Spielberg or Coppola, but Clark Kent? Sure, I could do that. I’d be the best damn journalist I could.
In time, I got married and we had our son. Eventually, I would leave the journalism world, but it didn’t make me any less of a writer.
I still write. I write this blog. I write the comic book Holidaze. I’m working on some possible small film projects. I’ve always got some other writing project going as well. Heck, I now get paid to be a writer for the institution I work for. Yes, I get to say I’m a paid writer now and that is one of the coolest things in the world to me.
I’m sure the 21 year old, overconfident me would have balked, saying it was a film career or bust. The me in my late 20s would have wondered where a plethora of novels were. The 9 year old me would have wondered why I wasn’t animating ducks for Disney.
However, that 9 year old me, 21 year old me, heck, even the 27 year old me, didn’t have a family, didn’t have a wife and a son, and family members he wanted them by as he grows up.
The younger me didn’t realize how having this little man in my life would change my goals in life as well.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying don’t reach for your goals. Please, for the love of all on this earth, go for it! Have dreams! Live them!
Just make sure they are YOUR dreams and YOUR goals that you’re working towards. And understand that, yes, those goals and those dreams may change. Sure, for some of you, they may be the same goals from when you were 4 to 24 to 34 to the rest of your life.
Or they may not.
They may change as you change. That doesn’t make you any less of a person, that doesn’t mean you ‘gave up,’ and that doesn’t make you a ‘loser.’ Believe me, I’ve gone through many of those feelings before coming to the realizations I have.
What I’m saying is, I can still write, I can still pursue projects, but they no longer are the end goal or the success that I look for. I do them because I enjoy them. Years ago, success may have been to make a living off of being a screenwriter, a comic book writer, an author or a filmmaker.
Today, success for me is about being around for that little guy when he needs me, when he wants a storyteller, a helping hand, or just someone to play around with or hug. Being a good father, being a present father, giving my all to that, and to him – that’s what a successful life for me will be.
A lot has been going on lately and life has been a bit in flux.
Last Friday, after more than seven years in the journalism business, most of those in broadcasting but print before that, I left the news business. As of this week, I am jumping into a brand new career in the realm of public relations.
It’s a move that I am incredibly excited about after years of just ‘feeding the beast’ to get news programs on the air with whatever content was possible amid shrinking staffs and constantly-breaking, outdated machinery (our TV station is one of the few in the country that is still editing on videotape and has yet go non-linear).
At first I was a bit scared of making a leap into another career. This was the longest I had been in any job and it was all I had known for awhile. What about all those familiar faces that I would no longer see day in and day out?
Then I realized that I was doing what we often do when we look back on something – idealizing. I wasn’t taking a look around me, but rather trying to make all that I had dealt with, put up with, and been frustrated by in my business and turn it into a footnote, while putting the good times at the front of my mind.
A very bad idea.
Sometimes, we lose ourselves in what we do. For me, it became very easy. Between the long days, often taking texts or phone calls at home, or doing work online in the evenings after I left work or on the weekends, I got caught up in it. When it’s the medium of television, that goes even further, because you’re not only taking on the identity of your work for yourself, but to the public as well. So many people would stop us in the grocery store and want to talk about who they didn’t like at the station, or why they didn’t like a particular story. It didn’t matter if the person they were complaining about was a friend or colleague, or if I had anything to do with the story they didn’t like. I worked there, thus, I was their chance to vent.
One of the biggest reasons I left was that I was just plain burnt-out on news. In the position I had, I was looked to for many problems for many shows. So, although I walked in at 8 to start getting things together for the noon news, by 10:30 or 11, the evening producer would be looking for what people were doing for the 5. There were many times we were still scrambling to get the Noon on the air and I was running around, frustrated, trying to figure out the 5, the 6, then soon after, the 10 and the 11, etc. It was a never ending cycle. In many jobs, when you finish something, you can take a sigh of relief. “Phew. I finished.” In news, there’s no such thing. You run yourself into the ground for one show and then you better be ready to do it all over again for another show in just a few short hours.
It may have been exciting and new in my twenties, but now, with years gone by and the little guy growing like a weed, it just wasn’t for me anymore.
I was coming home with chest pains, going to work each day, anxiety-ridden about what was coming and I knew that I was coming home as a person I didn’t want my son growing up with. I knew, deep down, that if I stayed on the path I was on, I would be dead before age 50, keeled over my desk. I wasn’t what I wanted my little guy seeing as an example of how to be, or how life should be.
Yes, you can say ‘well, it’s a job’ but you can rationalize and glorify anything when you want to. There is an allure for many to be ‘in the TV business’ or to have people know who you are. In the end, though, what matters is how you balance that, and what you trade off for your own happiness.
So I started looking outward, and when this opportunity in public affairs at a college campus presented itself, looking for someone with a background in journalism, I couldn’t leap fast enough. A new set of challenges, an exciting new start, great hours, holidays off, more time for my family. Time on the weekends and nights to spend with them or work on my passions, be it this blog, my comic series, or get back into some fiction writing. How could I say no?
I know a lot of people these days measure success in different ways. I’m not one to measure it by how many people know me, how much time my face was on television, or how many Facebook friends or followers I had. For me, it’s about the quality of the life you choose to lead. Moving to a job that may not have the ‘glamour’ of my previous job may seem like a downward step to some, especially those who don’t know me. For me, though, it’s the chance to have my own life again, to carve out a future with my family and spend time with the passions that fuel me but have had to be put on the back burner for years as work became more and more consuming.
It was a bittersweet goodbye. I got choked up thinking of the people who I like at work who I’ll miss seeing everyday. Then, I think of the folks who made it miserable to work there, be they certain colleagues or management.
I could have left on a bitter note, given the challenges placed before me by corporate higher-ups during my transition. However, I decided I was going to leave the better person and just finish out the time, a full six weeks. I gave too much of myself over the years to have it all end badly. Besides, I was allowed the opportunity to say my proper goodbyes to the audience and my friends and colleagues, a day which I will remember fondly.
I’ll miss many of the people, but I honestly won’t miss the stressful drudgery or the lack of compassion or common sense that ran rampant there.
The day that I left my news job, Meg found this cartoon online. While not the exact same situation, it pretty much summed up everything about how I was feeling as of late when it comes to having the life drained out of you by work and not living your life: