In a letter dated December 30, 1907, Mark Twain wrote, “The [Christmas] holidays have this high value: that they remind Forgetters of the Forgotten, & repair damaged relationships.” Given Twain’s often cynical view of the world, he may have said what he did with a negative twist and perhaps even a bad taste in his mouth. But even so, he was right.
Just seven years after Mark Twain penned those words, with Europe less than half a year into World War I, around the Christmas of 1914 something amazing happened on the western front. Without any “official” declaration, an impromptu ceasefire broke out among the French, British, and German forces. Garth Brooks was so inspired by the story that he co-wrote a song about it for his 1997 album Sevens.
In the fictional song “Belleau Wood,” Garth Brooks tells his version of the ceasefire. He describes a snowy Christmas Eve night with opposing forces lying quietly in their trenches. The silence was broken, writes Brooks, by a German soldier singing aloud “Silent Night” in his native tongue.
The Allied soldier who narrates the song describes the fear of death he felt as he stood up in his own trench to sing along with the German soldier. He sang in a different language, but they sang together. Gradually, “one by one each man became a singer of the hymn,” and heaven briefly settled over that battlefield.
Other writers, from Charles Dickens to Dr. Suess, have illustrated the Christmas transformation that Mark Twain wrote about and Garth Brooks sang about. In A Christmas Carol, Dickens writes about Ebenezer Scrooge, who at the outset of the story is just about the worst version of a man anyone could ever hope to meet. By Christmas day, though (granted after being visited by several ghosts the previous night), a Christmas miracle occurs, and Scrooge transforms into the kindest and most generous man in town.
Perhaps even worse than Scrooge was Dr. Suess’s Grinch, who wasn’t just annoyed by Christmas like Scrooge, but who actively tried to steal Christmas from the citizens of the nearby town of Whoville. Like Scrooge, by Christmas morning, the Grinch was transformed. In his case no ghosts were necessary. The Grinch underwent a literal change of heart after seeing how the town reacted to his evil antics. The Grinch learned that Christmas is about people—family, friends, relationships—not things.
Those like me who work in the field of estate planning and elder law often see the best in folks, but sometimes we see the worst. We hear about the decades-old rifts. We see the pain in the eyes of our clients when they talk about children and grandchildren with whom they have lost contact. We hear stories of siblings who can no longer spend time in the same room together. In those situations, we can develop estate plans that can, at least, minimize future trouble. But from our seat, we cannot repair the rifts of the past.
We also see the suffering and the isolation felt by our clients with family members in need of long-term care. The care required by long-term health problems can be extremely expensive and terribly draining on the caregivers. From a financial perspective we can help. With the emotional struggle, though, there isn’t much we as a firm can do. This holiday season, don’t forget those in your circle who may be trying valiantly to hide loneliness stemming from having a loved one with failing health. Don’t let those caregivers become Mark Twain’s “Forgotten.”
If Christmas can transform the likes of Scrooge and the Grinch, if even warring soldiers can lay down their arms over the holidays, why not us? If you are a Forgetter, remember the Forgotten. If you have damaged relationships, let Christmas provide a path to repair. It may not even feel like you speak the same language as those on the other side of your rift, but that doesn’t have to stop you from singing together the same song.
From all of us at The Elrod Firm, have a magical holiday season with family and friends. Reach out. Reconnect. And when you’re ready, give us a call to plan for your family’s future and protect the people and things that matter most.