I can’t gift-wrap this, but it’s the closest thing to a Christmas treasure that I have to share. Decades ago, I published it twice in different magazines.
Eric Sevareid was a gifted writer who spent most of his life as a radio and TV journalist working with Edward R. Murrow during World War II as part of “a band of brothers” and later at CBS-TV in its glory days.
He was a hero and a role model to me and, in the light of the new Clint Eastwood movie, it’s noteworthy that J. Edgar Hoover considered this prototypical Midwestern farm boy a threat to his vision of America.
Herewith, excerpts from Sevareid’s essay:
"Christmas offers us peace in one hand but in the other it carries a sword. The peace it offers is the love we felt in childhood and may still feel again if we have lived our lives as we were instructed in our early days. The sword is our conscience, glittering as sharply as the icicles on the Christmas tree.
"Christmas is an anticipation for the children; it is memory for most adults. It fastens the grip of truth upon us and will not let us go. Implacably it demands of us that we regard our work and what we have made of our lives, our country and our world.
"By the glow of the soft lights, by the sound of child voices in song, piercing us with an almost unendurable purity, we are obliged to remember that our first and only commandment was to love, and we have not truly obeyed; that men were so commanded not to improve them, but to save them from themselves, and we have not truly understood.
"Of course, we say as the moment of truth approaches, 'Christmas is really for the children.' Suffer the little children to take this burden from us.
"Perhaps, were we to know the realities of our own deepest motivations, we would conclude that this is why we have made of the Christmas occasion an immensely complicated business. It is the sheer busyness of Christmas, not so much its commercialization, that has changed its forms and rituals. Perhaps we have lost not only the art of simplicity but the desire for it as well. But not, I think, in our deepest beings. And as long as we know in our hearts what Christmas ought to be, then Christmas is.
"The sophisticated may belittle the almost assembly-line transaction of the printed Christmas cards that swamp our parlors in piles and windows. It is impersonal, yes, as compared with the old-fashioned family trek down the street for greetings at the door. But each little square or rectangular printed card is a signal of human recognition, a reassurance that we live in part, at least, of their consciousness, however small a part, and so are not alone...
"We cannot live, in our families, in our nations or in the world, if we cannot open our hearts. I do not know how this compressed, elbowing and suspicious world is to go on in peace if this cannot be done. I see no ultimate security in any 'balance of power' or 'balance of terror' peace. We know instinctively that in the end only a peace through a balance of kindness will preserve us...
"There are a few words I read every time the Christmas season comes around...[perhaps] written by Fra Giovanni in the year 1513...which sometimes I think of as the most perfect passage in our language...
"'There is nothing I can give you which you have not; but there is much that, while I cannot give you, you can take. No heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in it today. Take heaven. No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in this present instant. Take peace. The gloom of the world is but a shadow; behind it, yet within reach, is joy. Take joy. And so, at this Christmastime, I greet you with the prayer that for you, now and forever, the day breaks and the shadows flee away.'"
From Sevareid, long gone now, and me, wishes to all for a day of heaven, peace and joy.