By Chuck Lauer
We seem to live in a very cynical, in-your-face, don't-trust-anybody society these days.
It is disheartening to see the injustices and outright greed that seem to pervade our society. And it is easy to let that discouragement take over, obscuring much that is good about our country and for which we ought to be thankful, especially in tough times.
We have many examples of heroism, generosity and thoughtfulness. Our military serving in Afghanistan and Iraq are sacrificing so that we are protected from those who would destroy this nation. At home there are everyday heroes who dedicate themselves to rooting out discrimination, feeding the hungry and saving lives through charitable care.
We still live in the richest country on Earth, a place of individual freedoms, where you have the opportunity to make something of yourself, regardless of skin color or religious affiliation.
We adults understand how complicated and arduous life can be. Sometimes we are so aware of that, we forget some of the magic that makes life so wonderful. Believing in something bigger than ourselves and our own interests is one of those magical things.
This brings me to a great story that I want to share, one that goes to the heart of what we all strive for in terms of character and honor.
In 1897, an 8-year-old girl wrote this letter to the editor of the New York Sun newspaper:
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.
A very quick response was printed as an unsigned editorial Sept. 21, 1897. The person responsible for answering Virginia's question was a veteran newsman by the name of Francis Pharcellus Church, and the column he wrote in response to the little girl has become the most reprinted newspaper editorial in history, appearing in dozens of languages in books, movies and other editorials, and on posters and stamps.
Many people know the expression,"Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus," but too often they don't know where the expression came from and for sure have never read the words that Church wrote in response to the little girl's question.
Here is his response:
Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except what 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.
And that was the end of the letter to Virginia from a veteran newspaper reporter who had written story after story, some of them concerning man's inhumanity to man. Francis Pharcellus Church's column should be good advice for all of us at this holiday season. Believe in the goodness of man and in ourselves as we go forward to achieve our individual destinies.
Happy Holidays to all my dear and cherished friends.