THE 12 DOVES OF CHRISTMAS [Creative Nonfiction]

I like dark chocolate and sometimes have a piece in the morning with my coffee. There’s a brand of individually wrapped pieces called Dove™ that includes brief thoughts and statements inside the wrapper. With our preparation for the holiday season each year, my wife buys bags of them. One year, I thought–leading up to Christmas–I would take that day’s chocolate wrapper and write a little about my first thoughts on reading it. Here they are:

The 1st DOVE of Christmas

Engage, Embrace, and Enjoy the special moments… a sunrise, a sunset, a full moon in a bright, crisp autumn sky, a smile, a hug… all that is simple and beautiful in our world.

The 2nd DOVE of Christmas

Sometimes, we think this takes money. That we have to be able to travel to distant places. Not true, though… for me, that’s one of my favorite ways to gain new–and to build upon past–experiences. But discovery often comes from merely doing something different or something familiar differently. Discovery means having a mindset open to its potential… knowing that there are opportunities for it, to a greater or lesser degree, each day. And when the chance is there to take it. Even in small amounts, we can learn and benefit from it. When you live with a purpose, I believe there’s something to discover every day.

The 3rd DOVE of Christmas

We all do it. No, not that… I’m talking about daydreaming. That moment when we slip into a mindscape of wishes, wants, and maybe a what-if or two. There’s been a lot written about visualization and how athletes use it for peak performance. Doing it—what you want to do or to get better at—in your mind helps. No, not that… well, maybe that, too. But I digress. Daydreaming can be constructive, but only if anchored—mostly—in reality. I mean, it doesn’t become or isn’t from the start an absurd fantasy with little chance of existence. Guide your daydreams, and base them in your real world in a way that fits what you do, who you are, and what you want from life. Make them possible… the kind of daydream that requires you to—real-world—stretch and reach. Making it tangible often starts with imagining it can be so and then believing in yourself enough to take action and get it done.

The 4th DOVE of Christmas

I disagree with this one.

What this Dove says (I think) and means is not to restrict love… let it flourish unbound. Don’t tell Love what to do.

Love can be unruly. It can happen when we least expect it. And it can run from us if we chase it. That can be problematic when most seek love and companionship, though I know some who are content without it.

But new love, at any age, that runs wild and free with the wrong person or a seasoned, mature love that becomes abused or untended can wither and end in anger, sadness, hurt, and pain.

For love to work, I believe one fundamental, paramount rule is necessary: to love only someone who loves you in equal measure. Love someone who respects you as much as you respect them. This must hold true at the beginning and throughout any relationship.

Love has to include respect, or it’s not love. That’s the rule.

The 5th DOVE of Christmas

Smiles always get me. The most beautiful sight to me is a smile on my wife and daughters’ faces. I’ve seen spectacular vistas from coast to coast, continent to continent, cities of light, bright shining skyscrapers that pierce the clouds, the views from some of the tallest buildings in the world, the subtle shades of sea greens and blues in oceans and waters around the globe, the austere grandness of canyons and ancient ruins that stun you with wonder at their age and how they were erected ages ago. So many beautiful places, man-made and natural… and nothing matches the impact of their—Daphne and my girls’—smile. Nothing makes me happier to see.

So, give and get some smiles this Christmas… yours for them (your loved ones and friends) and theirs for you.

The 6th DOVE of Christmas

Love. That’s what I got, along with the 6th Dove, for my birthday (which is in December). Love. My wife and three of my daughters to celebrate with me, and a warm birthday wish from my oldest daughter, who is married now and lives in another state. Love from friends and family… all important to me.

The personal messages within meant the most to me. The ones from my daughters tell me my wife and I haven’t missed the mark in raising them to be young adults with their heads on straight about what’s important. The others tell me I have—in ways—touched people in ways I don’t consciously think of… just by being me. And that feels good, too.

One year, I also got a surprise. From one of my daughter’s friends—a young man—who wrote a touching letter about how, over the years, he has come to view me as the type of father figure and man he aspires to be. Now, I’m not a perfect man—far from it—but I do try to impart, in subtle ways, some of what I’ve learned in life to not just my children but their friends, too. His letter was an unexpected and heart-warming gift.

I don’t need material things. I have all that I need and lack for nothing. [And yes, I’m fortunate and blessed to say that, but my wife and I have worked hard for what we have.] I count my riches in the love I receive and that I can, in turn, give to others (who deserve it), especially my family and those friends closest to me.

So, for my birthday, I got the greatest gift of all. Love.

I hope this holiday season, you all receive and give love in equal measure, as deserved.

And I hope you get chocolate. The kind you like, and if that’s not what you want… then the sweetest treat you enjoy most. Like maybe a chocolate-dipped vanilla ice cream cone from Dairy Queen.

The 7th DOVE of Christmas

This one says: “Take advantage of every free moment you have.”

Some would say this advice is about being productive; don’t waste time. Squeeze every bit into producing something. That in and of itself is not bad advice. I believe the road to getting ahead in life—and creating a sustainable good one—is paved by effort.

My writing work is mostly done in my head (before it gets to screen or paper, even if it beats it by a nanosecond), so wherever I happen to be, I can also work on something. In this picture, you see the area next to my chair, by the fireplace, in our family room. It’s prepared for those moments when I need to write down something I’ve just thought about or to make a note. So, I believe we should always be conscious of moments—lulls in the day—that can be useful. But you don’t have to feel compelled to fill them with work. Many serve you better as a time for quick reflection… for thought.

For me, it could be a moment to pay attention to the course of events around me and step away from work inside my head. To catch the flash of my wife or daughters’ smile… or hear a low laugh that spills from some other part of the house when my girls are chatting, seemingly amused or just enjoying themselves in their rooms… to overhear my wife talking with one of her friends and laughing together over something. To listen to daughters singing—loudly—in their shower… the streams of it sometimes heard in the evening. Those moments make me appreciate that my wife and I have created a family environment where we all easily laugh and sing.

Or just now [as I wrote this]. A glance and I see movement around the Christmas tree… Murphy’s suddenly discovered his in-the-house ball had rolled under it, and he’s belly-crawling trying to get it. He looks over at me and pauses as if to say, “Give me a chance… I’ll get it.” I do, and he does. He takes it, climbs up on his chair with the Batman blanket in it, and he’s lying over there alternating, gnawing on the ball and looking at me. It’s just a moment, but I’m mindful of it and him. It—and he—makes me smile.

I guess what I’m advocating is that in our so demanding world of digital devices, alerts, and reminders of a plugged-in, multitasking, and connected world… and in this holiday time of year, that can be so hectic and hurried… that when we have a moment, take it for ourselves. Hear the sounds, see what’s around you—that makes you smile—and plug them firmly into memory. They come and go quickly, but they all add up… if we pay attention.

As I sit here typing this, pausing to drink coffee, I hear my two youngest daughters getting ready for the last day of school before their Christmas and New Year’s break. I think of this weekend when we make and bake our first batch of Christmas cookies. And how when they come out of the oven and that pleasant aroma fills the house, I’ll savor the sensation and appreciate the time with them to make those cookies. It will trigger thoughts (year after year it always does) to back when they were younger, shorter, and had to stretch—or need help—to get at them. Little hands reaching up to the kitchen counter where the cookies cooled on sheets of aluminum foil. And I think of how they’ve all grown up and what good and strong individuals they’ve become. Moments like that and more make my day a better one.

I have to go now and want to leave you with this.

I hope that something in each and every day brings a smile to your face and a good feeling in your heart. Just remember they’re often there… hold them close and know there are more to come if you pay attention to the moments.

The 8th DOVE of Christmas


I know that some of you do.

Others that I don’t know probably do, too.

And I’m sure most—if not all—assholes don’t. They do the opposite, and no one likes them. 😉 No chocolate for them. Not from me, anyway.

The 9th DOVE of Christmas

It was early spring 1978 on a Sunday at a teen (16 to 18 years old) dance club called ‘Tiffany’s.’ The song, ‘Brickhouse’ by The Commodores, came on, and Teresa G. got up on a table. It was like something teenage boy’s dream about… mesmerizing. Tall, coltish, slender with long honey-blonde hair, and though only 18, the budding curves of the woman she was becoming were there. She turned as she danced, and slowly, her hands ran down, without touching, the length of the outside line of her shape from ribs to thighs. They raised following the same line and further to clear the sweep of hair that covered her face, piling it up and letting it fall. Through mussed hair, I saw her gray-green eyes close and a slight smile, just showing the edges of teeth, form on her lips. It was a charged moment, watching her. Lightning in the air coursing through as the pulse of the music washed over me, on my skin, and in my bones. “She was mighty… mighty…” And I’m sure every guy felt it. I know I did. The song ended; she swept the hair from her face and stepped down. She returned to a nearby table where she had been sitting with a friend. Not one boy approached her.

I was usually a quiet guy (unless someone pissed me off), not that I was shy, but just because I was, and still am, not a loudmouth, or everyone’s buddy, life-of-the-party type of person. But I liked what Teresa had done. We lived in a relatively small town of about 36,000. I knew her only slightly—she went to a different high school—but she’d impressed me as the quiet type, too. She was pretty but not Barbie-doll perfect or carefully crafted to seem so. Not the girl every-boy-was-after… not the rah-rah-school-spirit, in the school’s most popular clique, kind of girl. I wondered what made her do something so extraordinarily intended to draw attention. So, I went up and asked her. “What was that?” and gestured at the table she’d danced on.

“I love the song, and no one asked me to dance. So I decided to dance anyway,” she said.

At the time, the deeper meaning behind that feeling and how important that underlying philosophy would become to me flew right by. But I knew she’d done something brave. At that moment, I sensed she had felt at odds… different from her peers… wanting to do… instead of wait… and decided on something entirely unexpected to celebrate how she felt about herself. That I understood completely. When the next song came on, I asked her to dance. Afterward, she left for work, and I returned to my friends. A few days later, I asked her out, and she went to prom with me.

Soon, it was graduation for us, and a couple of months later, I was off to bootcamp and significant changes in my life, new worlds, and new experiences. Teresa and I did not stay in close touch. A few months later, after more training and reporting to my ship, I came home on leave, and she was still working at the Burger Shef on Central Ave. I went to see her and saw she had taped a recent picture of me to her cash register. [The photo Teresa had was taken after a workout on my ship; my mother gave it to her.] So, I guess we connected, each giving the other something extraordinary, even briefly.

I’ve found in my life—more times than not—that what ‘feels right’ for me is the best way to go. I’ve done so many ‘spur of the moment’ things that I know most people would never do. Either because of some norms of convention they felt bound by or just their innate reservation or reluctance, maybe even fear of being that ‘free.’ Being spontaneous and making it work out, especially on important matters, takes contextual judgment based on experience. So young people need to tread carefully. But at the right moment… little things like dancing when you want to dance, singing when you want to sing… the ‘rightness’ of it fills you, and you just have to do it. Not for others, but for yourself. No harm, no foul… and not caring what others think.

We were oh so young… but today, more than four decades later, I still remember Teresa and why she danced that day. She did what felt right. “She was mighty… mighty…”

The 10th DOVE of Christmas

I love this one. There have been times in my life—two of them explicitly at critical points—when I didn’t wait for permission. Didn’t ask for a reservation. Didn’t wait for an opening… didn’t wait to be considered… did not hope for approval before I did what I needed (or wanted) to do. I showed up, expecting to be accepted. I created—or forced the creation of—what I desired. And it worked extraordinarily to my benefit.

When we–my family and I–drive somewhere, and we’re parking… we check the closest spot to where we’re going. When there’s an open spot right where we want, I always say, “They knew we were coming.” I tell my girls that only half-jokingly.

I believe in life, you have to expect room in the front row and expect to be welcomed and appreciated. Now, that’s not always the case. It does not always happen the way you want. But I know from experience that doing so (intelligently, with good taste, and hard work, you cannot be a crass, dumbass slacker and pull it off) works out in your favor more often than not. And that can help create a good life for you. Or maybe even—likely can—help turn one around.

The 11th DOVE of Christmas

This one likely means—to many—not letting the clock rule you. To take the time to smell the roses, and there is value in that. You should take time for yourself.

But another thought about time comes to mind.

I have a thing about it: focus on timeliness and being on time that preexisted the emphasis that military training instills in you, especially operations. Time matters: Time on Target, Time to Impact, Course and Time to Intercept, Last Contact Time… Run Time, Elapsed Time Speed, and Distance Target Motion Analysis. Relieve the Watch On Time. Time and Tide Wait for No Man. And on and on… So, I believe being disciplined with time is an integral part of success in life. But you have to make sure that it is spent on the things worth your time and on what’s important.

We all have work schedules. Even as a business owner/self-employed professional for 24+ years, I have deadlines, a clock, and a calendar determined by what is negotiated in my contracts with clients and the demands and requirements of publishing and publication deadlines (including production and book manufacturing lead times and schedules).

But I believe there are times when people let someone else’s clock (not their job or work) rule their life. Others expect this or that from you… Maybe you always say ‘yes’ to them when you should, but more often than not, say no. For some reason, you feel obligated to do as they ask or are compelled to do it to curry favor. Sometimes, you remain the gerbil on that wheel because you don’t know how to stop. And so you end up tense, frustrated, and feeling life is out of your control.

If that’s how you’ve let things become, then it’s true. You don’t have control over your life. You’ve ceded that to someone else or to the whim of circumstance. Your life is governed by the ticking hands of someone else’s clock or that of fate. And that is the clock you should ignore.

We often use the words ‘spend’ or ‘give’ when it comes to time and how we use it. Both—to me—connote its intrinsic value. And as the years go by, we consider how it has been invested and have to be ever wiser with the care and management of what we (presumably) have left. Remember that the time you spend must be on what’s worthwhile, and the time you give to anything or anyone… is never coming back. Treat time just as valuable as it truly is.

“How did it get so late so soon?” ―Dr. Seuss

The 12th DOVE of Christmas

I like dark chocolate and sometimes have a piece in the morning with my coffee. There’s a brand of individually wrapped pieces called Dove that includes brief thoughts, statements, inside the wrapper. One holiday season, I decided to begin on December 12th and take each day’s chocolate wrapper and write a little bit about my first thoughts on reading it.

Some will read this, agree with it, and be thankful.

I did, do, and am.

Others might view it differently.

How you feel when you read this depends entirely on where choices—and, to a degree, chance—have led you in life. I believe the former, more than the latter, are the drivers and determinants of our past, present, and future.

Just remember:

The past is not a chain; it does not bind us.

The present is a moment in time.

The future is not fixed or predetermined.

In a now-famous post-game rant, Dennis Green, the former coach of the National Football League’s Minnesota Vikings, said about an opponent they had just lost to: “They are who we thought they were.” It was part of a bizarre tirade, but here’s where it’s apt in the context of my thoughts on this DOVE. “We are who we think we are.” And I’d join that with, “We are where our decisions have led us… so we are where we are.”

This DOVE’s use of the word ‘supposed’ is critical. Here’s the definition of that word: ‘generally assumed or believed to be the case, but not necessarily so.’

Perhaps some read this and feel they are not where they’re supposed to be. Where they are is not a happy place, or maybe it’s marginal… not bad, but not great. Maybe it’s limbo. But there it is. It is where they are.

The question I have is whether they can read this DOVE’s statement this time next year and feel the same way or if things will be different. It primarily comes down to choices made between now and then.

Next year, I hope you hear your inner voice say what the ancient knight—the guardian of the Grail—told Indiana Jones when he selected the right cup: “You chose wisely.”

# # #

So, my 12 DOVES of Christmas end here. I hope that something in what I’ve written sparks some thought or appreciation for what the messages mean.

Everything in life starts with what you think and how you feel. Make them (thoughts and feelings) good. Make them serve your turn. I hope they make you happy, year in and year out.