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A Simple Gift for this Holiday Season

Let me begin this visit with you by offering my best wishes to you for a happy and joyous holiday season. For some of us a Merry Christmas is the way to go, while for others best wishes for the joy of Hanukkah will be most appropriate. This is one of those years when these two long-staying holidays share the same time and space in our lives. Please allow me to offer you the joy of the season for you and your families.

As many of you know, one of my favorite things to do in life is to play my tuba for one of the bands with which I am joyously associated. The holiday season is really neat. Our groups have played a number of concerts over the past two weeks and the music has been most enjoyable and fun to perform. The response from the audiences has been really great. It makes a boy feel really great to be a part of these musical ensembles.

With these things in mind, my thoughts turned to holiday giving in church the other day. It was my privilege to carry forward the gifts my wife and I had purchased for the Colts Neck Reformed Church's annual giving program, as well as some other gifts which had been left in the rear of the church. Giving is good my friends. Sharing one's gifts adds something special to our lives each and every time we do it. Singing hymns and giving gifts made the day's experience truly memorable.

Let me share a bit of personal information with you. One of my favorite band pieces comes from the world of the Shaker religious experience. It is a piece entitled Simple Gifts. The song, written in 1848, was largely unknown outside of Shaker communities until it became world famous thanks to its use in Aaron Copeland's score for Martha Graham's ballet Appalachian Spring which was first performed back in 1944. You might have heard it on television, since it was the opening music for the CBS Reports program.

As I sat listening to our Pastor Scott Brown speak about the gift of a humble God, the tune to this beautiful, simple song began to run through my mind. In a holiday world gone crazy with the concept of bigger, better, and more expensive, it began to dawn on me that there is a simple gift which you and I can request this year. It is a really simple gift for each of us. And it has great value for one and all.

Let me suggest that each of us ask for the gift of another year to do what we love to do: Love and serve our families, and love and serve our communities in the fire service. Yes, it is as simple as that, and if you think about it, each of the above is as much a family as the other. We must work to make things better in each world.

All of us have a responsibility to do our best here on earth. It is fairly easy to understand our role in the life of our own families. We are here for them. We give them our love and support. We provide for them, watch out for them, and take care of them. Or at least that is how it should be. Where it isn't, let me offer a prayer for you that things get back on track. You only get one shot at the living of your life here on God's Green Earth.

So too should it be with your experience within your local fire department. Your fire department should be like another family in your life. You spend lots of time at the fire station. You work hard at clean up sessions. You drill together to improve and insure that your skill set is the best it can be. You occasionally risk your lives one for another in the performance of your emergency duties. At least that is how it has been over the course of my nearly five decades in the business.

Perhaps I have yet to grow beyond the naive, Pollyanna phase of life, but that is just the way I am. However, that is who I am. I have a pal who takes great delight in calling me "little Harry Sunshine." I do not mind this. Like many of you, I have taken my shots from others during my time here on earth. That is just the way it is.

Growing up chubby in America subjected me to the abuse so often heaped upon people of volume by those not sufficiently substantial in girth or size. However, I was fortunate. My dear, departed grandmother armed me early on with the resolve to keep pushing on in the face of disappointment and derision. That was a gift for which I shall be eternally grateful. I think she knew that I understood that. Perhaps she saw it in the way in which I lived my life. I sure hope so.

Let me suggest that when you reach a certain age, the request for an additional year of life comes with a bit of uncertainty attached to it. Since I will be signing up for Medicare in the coming year, let me suggest that I have been around the block more than once. But since hope springs eternal, let me humbly ask the Lord for another year here among my family, my friends, and my associates.

What might I wish to accomplish in the coming year? The list is not really that long, but it is really neat. First off, I want to walk my daughter Ellen down the aisle for her wedding next May at the Colts Neck Reformed Church. It will be really great, because my son, Father H. Todd Carter, will be assisting Pastor Scott Brown in the conduct of the wedding ceremony. Next, I want to spend some quality time celebrating my 40th wedding anniversary with the charming Jackie Carter. I think I see a trip to Disney World in my future.

Of course I want to continue traveling and meeting with you at the many meetings and conventions I hope to attend next year. I really love meeting and sharing. It is also a privilege to learn from you. I will be at the FDIC in Indianapolis, the Firehouse Expo in Baltimore, Fire-Rescue International in Denver, and the Wisconsin State Fire Chiefs in the Wisconsin Dell's area.

Finally, it is my hope that I can spend another year driving the pumper and the rescue truck here in the Adelphia Fire Company. I wish to enjoy another year of responding throughout my community here in Howell Township with my firefighting daughter Kathleen (who will be the maid of honor at her sister's wedding in May).

These are the gifts which I hope to receive as part of the coming year. Think about it. These are simple gifts, and with the exception of Ellen's wedding, and the trip to Disney World, all come at little or no cost to my family or to me.

Let me suggest that you separate the selfish from the selfless in your lives. But remember that there are others for whom this will not be the case. Remember that far too many people live their lives like those streets we see in our towns. You know the ones with the arrows which state "One Way."

Remember that charity begins at home. But do not let it stay there. That is a simple gift which you can share with others. There are also those who will live the coming year facing illness, injury, or separation from those they love. Visit them, encourage them, and pray for them.

Live a life for others and things should work out a lot better. These are my thoughts and wishes for the coming year as I approach this season of joy and thanksgiving. The approach of the celebration of the birth of our Lord and Savior gives me great personal pause for joy.

So my friends please accept my sincere wishes for a very Merry Christmas and an extremely Happy Hanukkah.

HARRY R. CARTER, Ph.D., CFO, MIFireE, a Contributing Editor, is a municipal fire protection consultant based in Adelphia, NJ. Dr. Carter retired from the Newark, NJ, Fire Department and is a past chief and active life member of the Adelphia Fire Company. Follow Harry on his A View From my Front Porch blog. He recently published several texts, including Leadership: A View from the Trenches and Living My Dream: Dr. Harry Carter's 2006 FIRE Act Road Trip. You can reach Harry by e-mail at