Today is December 6th and it happens to be one of my favorite days of the year. It is the Feast of St. Nicholas, a man whom I’ve enjoyed a tremendous relationship with over the years. St Nicholas was born in Turkey and at a very early age his parents both passed away, leaving his Uncle, also named Nicholas, to raise him. Uncle Nicholas was a Bishop and raised young Nicholas to be a religious man teaching him first to be a reader in church and then ordaining him as a priest. From there many legends have grown over the years about his generosity and the miracles he performed during his life. Like many stories from ancient times I suspect you can take most of them with a grain of salt. There’s likely a bit of truth in them but certainly the legend of St. Nicholas has been built from many generations of storytellers each adding their own twist. Regardless of that I find it very cool that thousands of year’s later people of many faiths, and many countries, remember in some way an old, grey-haired, Saint who by all accounts was a kind soul who encouraged others to be givers. Can you imagine what it’s like to have the whole world anticipate your arrival and actually leave things out to make you comfortable when you show up?
Today, across Europe, children awoke to shoes filled with presents and treats, gifts from St. Nicholas himself on his feast day. Good children received fruit, candies or a present while bad children received coal. The coal an indication that you better shape up in the few days left until Christmas! While St Nicholas Day hasn’t become as big a deal here in the states, many homes now have Advent Calendars to count the days until St Nicholas arrives with a bit of chocolate or treat behind each day’s door. And on Christmas Eve there will be cookies and milk, and a carrot for the reindeer, on many tables around the world, a welcome to the Man we await with anticipation. That, I think, is what the best part of Christmas is. The anticipation. And I think it’s the greatest gift St Nicholas gives us.
Think about it. How many presents do you remember of the dozens or hundreds you’ve received in your life? Sure, you might remember the big ones, or the very special ones, but most of the things you unwrapped on Christmas morning were nice to receive but didn’t leave a permanent mark on your memory. It’s the anticipation that makes Christmas special, awaiting the arrival of Santa Claus, and anticipating the birth of the one who came before him. We decorate trees, hang stockings with care in hopes that St. Nicholas soon will be there and in the darkest days of the year turn on multi-color lights, candles and wrap ourselves up in a joy we don’t feel the rest of the year.
In the interest of full disclosure, I not only believe in Santa Claus, I believe I am Santa Claus. There. I said it out loud for everyone to hear. For 20 years now I have collected Santa’s and this time of year they fill every corner of the house. I have a beautiful Santa suit that Diane had made for me years ago and I even took the name Nicholas as my confirmation name. I love St. Nicholas and have never stopped believing in him. See, I think you do him a great disservice if you only think of him as the guy who brings presents. St. Nicholas brings anticipation and the hope that things can be merry and bright. St. Nicholas brings the belief that each one of us is special and deserving. St. Nicholas brings the comfort that for one day of the year being a kid is ok, no matter how old a kid you are! See, I don’t want to be another star athlete, or famous politician, or even a reality show host. I’d prefer to be the guy that makes your heart flutter a little when you see him for the first time each year. So, from me to you, Happy St. Nicholas Day and don’t be afraid to tell everyone you believe in Santa Claus, and have fun anticipating his arrival!!
Here we are in November and on the doorstep of “The Most Wonderful Time of The Year” and I have to admit I am right in the middle of my annual chameleon thing and am changing into a 7-year old boy again! I simply love this time of year. It starts with my birthday on November 9th when I’m reminded of my Mom. I looked forward to her call on my birthday more than any other I would receive and now that she’s been gone a few years I miss that the most. She instilled in me a real love for this time of year and I remember Christmas at our house, wherever we were in the world, being a magical place. Maybe it was the Sing-A-Long with Mitch Christmas records! In between my birthday and Christmas was Thanksgiving and the thing that sticks out the most to me was it was the one time of the year when we said a prayer before we ate and Dad broke out the best wine glasses! In a family that only went to church three or four times the entire time I was growing up that annual prayer stuck with me because it was special and it certainly must have been important because it was the only time we did it!! After leaving home and starting my own family church became more important, and that prayer has been my responsibility. Carving the turkey, saying the prayer, those are important events that signal a man’s arrival as head of the family, so it makes me a little sad that Thanksgiving these days seems to have become a footnote really, a thing we do in between more important things like Halloween and Christmas. It wasn’t always that way. In 1827, Sarah Josepha Hale, the writer who gave us the nursery rhyme “Mary Had a Little Lamb” among other things, started a campaign to establish Thanksgiving as a national holiday. She spent 36 years writing articles, and letters to important people of the day. It was President Abraham Lincoln who finally agreed to Sarah’s request and in 1863, at the height of the Civil War, suggested to all Americans they ask God to “commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife” and to “heal the wounds of the nation.” He scheduled Thanksgiving for the final Thursday in November. We’ve been celebrating it ever since, though lately it seems to be getting lost, or at least losing its meaning. The commercial aspects of Halloween and Christmas, times when we have our hands stretched out to receive, have become far more powerful than the prayerful aspect of Thanksgiving when our hands should be clasped close, in prayer, grateful that we have so many things to be thankful for. I love Thanksgiving so much I come to work on the radio that morning just to share the day with listeners who are so happy to be cooking and cleaning in anticipation of the family arriving. I love having family gathered at our house for the feast, but mostly for each other. We need decorations and symbols to adorn other holidays. We only need each other and the love that unites us to adorn Thanksgiving. Don’t let Thanksgiving be an interruption to more important things, let it be the important thing. I remember a quote that said something like “Sometimes simply saying thanks is prayer enough.” Happy Thanksgiving Friends.
Near the end of September Diane and I were at 7:30a Sunday mass at St Pius X Church, like usual. Diane was born into this Parish and went to school at St Pius School. Our daughter Sara was married here, our granddaughter Larissa baptized here and we have been to many funerals, renewed our vows and celebrated holidays as a family for over 30-years at St Pius. Most importantly to me I became a Catholic at St Pius in 1990 as a member of the Parishes first RCIA class. The next year Ted Forsythe completed RCIA and a friendship, formed of our common experience, was born. I was 34 when I completed RCIA, Ted was 56. I was the radio guy who served on Parish Council and lectured at Mass on Sunday. A good talker. Ted was the retired Air Force Master Sergeant who set up, cleaned up and always made sure things were in order. A good doer. I know people liked me because I was on the radio, which was cool, and I could read ok. People liked Ted because he was always there when they needed. He mentored people in the RCIA program, always reached out to young people trying to find their way, and had a word of encouragement for anyone who seemed down on their luck. Ted was a living example of how all of us should be and I wish people liked me the way they liked Ted. Not for being a radio guy…but for being a godly guy.
From the minute he first laid eyes on her Ted loved Eileen. They were teenage sweethearts and had been inseparable for all of their adult life. What the sun is to light, Eileen was to Ted. Everything. They had children and grandchildren together, went on camping trips and escorted trips around the world, together. They came to church and went to parties, together. While Eileen was Ted’s true love, he was known to fawn over some others and our granddaughter Larissa was one of those. When he first laid eyes on her he adopted her as his own. He and Eileen never let a birthday or holiday go by without a card and gift for Larissa. He fussed over Riss for all of her 11 years and would tell me every Sunday how beautiful she had become and how proud he was of her. When she became an altar server it was Ted who taught her the ropes. Ted knew Larissa’s father wasn’t active in her life and he went out of his way to make sure not all guys would disappoint her! And this brings me to that Sunday late in September, the last time I would see Ted alive.
Ted was serving that day, like he often did and Diane and I both noticed that during Mass he was looking at his best friend and wife, Eileen and smiling. He was kneeling behind the altar and he couldn’t stop looking at her…and smiling. It was one of the sweetest, most loving things I have ever seen in my life. When he did take his eyes off Eileen for a moment he would like at Larissa, and gently smile at her as well. At the time it seemed innocent enough, just someone in a happy mood, but I know better now. What I was seeing was Ted saying to God, “Thank you for blessing me with such beautiful gifts and please take care of my treasures.”
Ted had been fighting cancer and its side effects for some time. He had been in and out of the hospital a couple times, holding off the inevitable each time. He didn’t care for many people to know about it and got mad when we put him on the sick list. The times we talked about it he always said he was going to beat it, and would switch the subject and tell me about cute nurses and God not being ready for him yet. Then we’d laugh like we always did about how much more we knew than the “cradle Catholics” and we’d threaten to switch faiths if people didn’t wise up. The Sunday we saw him last he told us to have a good trip and he’d see us when we got home. A couple days later he was hospitalized and never recovered. My last memory of Ted alive is him making eyes at his wife. Ted making sure she knew how much he loved her…right to the end.
In my life I have rubbed elbows with really famous people. I have met starts and superstars and interviewed the supposedly most important people of my generation. I’ll bet if I asked them when the last time they looked at their wives or husbands and just smiled was, they couldn’t answer me. If I asked who the last person was they personally mentored, or reached a hand out too, they would fumble for an answer. It’s easy to become famous, it’s hard as hell to be yourself and do what you know is right. Ted showed us all that there is so much more joy in the simple things in life than there will ever be elsewhere. I love you Ted Forsythe and I miss you terribly. You were a good friend and a great role model. I know we’ll see each other again, just don’t change faiths until I get there!!
I have lived in Colorado since 1968 and I cannot remember a more difficult year for our community than 2012. The summer wildfires across our state, and Waldo Canyon in the Springs in particular, made us all realize that disaster often lurks in the shadows and is never far away. As days turned to weeks and smoke lingered over us we donated to charities and tried to take care of friends and loved ones whose lives have been forever changed. We prayed for the victims and thanked God we weren’t in the path of the flames.
Then came the horrific Aurora theater shootings and who among us didn’t wonder if you could be safe anywhere? Losing your life at a movie, how is that even possible? We heard the terrible stories of panic that touched everyone in the theater that night and wondered how heroic, or scared, we would have been in the same situation. Thousands came to the scene hoping their own eyes would show them something different than what they saw on television. A mass shooting couldn’t happen in Colorado again, but it did and we donated to charities, tried to take care of loved ones, and we prayed for the victims and thanked God that we had been spared this horror.
Now today comes news that the most innocent and fragile of us, a child who simply was walking to meet friends on the way to school, has been taken from the ones she loved in the most awful way imaginable. I cannot shake the sickness in my stomach over how scared Jessica must have been. As a parent your worst fear is that something will happen to your children and no one should have to bear the burden of that loss. None among us can understand just how suffocating the pain must be unless we’ve been through it ourselves. We will donate to charities set up in Jessica’s name, try to explain the unexplainable to our children and thank God the evil that took Jessica from her family didn’t come to our door.
As I’ve been trying to get my head around this today I keep wondering, what happens when you’ve cried so much there are no tears left? How many times can your heart break? How do you get over this? We may not have been directly touched by tragedy this summer but we surely have been changed as witnesses to it. I know I’m different because my first thought is no longer, “Oh that’s horrible”, it’s “What’s next?” 13 people have been murdered participating in two of the most common things we do, walking to school and going to the movies. You get a sense that our community collectively wonders, “How much more can we take?”
Well, through all of this we’ve shown that we can take a lot. When the wildfires were burning people opened their homes to strangers and gave them shelter, made donations to the Red Cross and other charities and tried to ease the burden of losing homes and possessions. After the shooting in Aurora we saw millions of dollars being donated to victims support funds and mental health professionals offered counseling to anyone affected by the tragedy. When Jessica Ridgeway was reported missing hundreds offered to assist in the search and hundreds others gathered at a vigil for her. In churches in every corner of the state people knelt in prayer that peace might come to those who suffered. This summer has sucked, no doubt about it. But through the tears we have seen how good people can be. I’m reminded of a song by Richard Gillard called the Servant Song that says, “I will weep when you are weeping, when you laugh, I'll laugh with you. I will share your joy and sorrow, till we've seen this journey through.” We have work to do to heal the hurt and shake some of our fear but we’ll get there. When one of us suffers, we all suffer and we’ll recover the only way we can. Together.
On the morning of September 11th, 2001 I was sitting at the Denver Zoo just starting the Breakfast Club. We were there for the annual Senior Day and at 6a I was chilly from a little breeze coming off the lake in City Park. The menagerie of animal sounds let the neighborhood know it was time to get up and it really looked like another ordinary beautiful Colorado morning. Then I heard in my ear from back in the studio, “Oh My God a plane just flew into the World Trade Center!” Mark was running the board for me in the studio and he had the television on and they were showing smoke from one of the towers and saying a plane of some sort had hit the building. There was confusion about what kind of plane and where it came from and then the second tower was hit and all Mark said to me was, “Rick, you need to come back here now.” I can hear it today as clearly as I could 11-years ago. I packed up, ran to the truck and listened to the news on the way from the Denver Zoo to the station and I kept looking up at the sky as if I expected more planes to fall. Of course everyone has stories about where they were that day and what they did. It was a moment that touched us all and as we approach the 11th anniversary of 9-11 I am only now beginning to realize just how deeply it touched me.
In December 2001, three months after the attacks, Diane and I flew to Hawaii for the 60th anniversary of the bombing at Pearl Harbor. Remember the scene at the airport then? National Guardsmen with M-16’s patrolled the concourse and security took hours to get through. When we got to Pearl I broadcast back to Denver from the deck of the USS Missouri and after the broadcast watched as 9-11 first responders who had been flown to Hawaii as guests of the Governor met Pearl Harbor Survivors. It was the first time since the attack that the first responders felt like they were with people who truly understood what they had been through. These were the men who 60-years earlier had crawled through ship wreckage and oily water looking for survivors of the Japanese attack like the first responders had just crawled through the crushed ruins of the Trade Center towers looking for survivors of the terrorist attacks. Everyone who was there that day cried…and hugged…and spoke very little. Words were not necessary between men and women who had seen evil first hand.
I realize now that 9-11 changed much about me. For the first five years or so after the attack whenever I boarded a plane I quickly looked around to see who was on the flight. If I saw someone Middle Eastern I was nervous about it. I’m not proud of that, but it’s what I felt and I only mention it because I know that kind of suspicion and fear invokes hate and hate invokes more violence and where does that get us? I’m glad I don’t have those feelings anymore.
Perhaps the biggest change in me is who my heroes are. It used to be athletes and man I wished I had half the talent they had. Now it’s 19 and 20-year olds with names like Andrew, and Doc, and Sam, and Lars, and Tommy and Danny and Faith. Kids who had their entire life in front of them but were so filled with patriotism after the attacks of 9-11 they felt a duty to serve and they died protecting the freedoms we all enjoy. The price of Freedom is most often paid for with the futures of young men and women. Man how I wish I had half the courage and belief in a higher calling that they did. The best friends I have ever known have been made from the tragedy of 9-11. In the ensuing years as Colorado’s finest have given their lives in the fight on terror I have become close with many of the Moms and Dads and Brothers and Sisters left behind. I have come to know the remarkable citizen soldiers who laid down their lives through the tears and story’s their families share and I am inspired by them, and saddened I will never know personally the kids they mourn.
We are all a little different now than we were before 9-11. It has hardened our hearts some and put us all on edge. Maybe we could all go to the Zoo for the morning show and start anew. The sound of all those animals waking up will put a smile in your heart! God bless you victims of 9-11. May we never again take for granted a single moment of our lives on this Earth knowing how quickly it can all change.
So last weekend while I was working on some sprinkler heads in the backyard I got bit on my right thumb by something. I didn't even feel it at first but as the week has gone on my thumb has become swollen, there's obviously an infection and it looks gross. Oh yea, AND IT HURTS LIKE HELL!!!! So I go to my doctor today, who I really like, and he says, "yep, something bit you. Take these pills and by the end of the weekend you should notice a big improvement." And with that he was off after spending 2 minutes and 17 seconds with me. In fact he left so fast I looked out the window to see if the building was on fire! END OF THE WEEKEND??? What part of "I was bite by a rare spider called The Slow, Painful, Agonizing Death Spider" did he not hear??? I need immediate relief. It's a miracle I'm able to still stand and speak. My life passed by my eyes twice, and I'm a slow passer. Wait, scratch that passer part. My point is I didn't go looking for relief eventually, I went looking for relief NOW. Have you tried zipping your pants without a thumb? I've been to HR three times this week. Diane says this is why men don't have babies, the pain would kill is. I say it's because my womb is full of Cheetos and Skittles. Anyway, please keep my thumb in your prayers. The doctor said my thumbnail will fall off eventually. I already have the 9 and a 1 dialed just in case.
I was with our grandchildren the other day, up to some kind of mischief like usual, and one of the boys picked something up and said, “This smells like Poppi”. I immediately turned around to see what he was holding, assuming the worst, and saw him clutching a t-shirt of mine. The other two took the shirt and made the same pronouncement, “Yep, this smells like Poppi for sure.” So I took my turn at the smell test, inhaled deeply and recognized my .79 cent a bottle After Shave Gel. I turned to the three of them and said, “Is that a bad thing?”, and they replied very emphatically, “Oh no, we like that Poppi smell!, and off they went to explore the world of trampolines and roly-poly bugs.
They are far too young to know this now but for the rest of their lives they will be reminded of Poppi when they smell .79 Gillette after shave gel. My legacy has been assured in the men’s toiletry aisle! Long after they’ve forgotten the computer we got them for Christmas, or the trip to the mountains, or the mending of scrapes and bruises, years from now when they are lost in lives of their own someone will walk by with that gel on and immediately they’ll remember Poppi. That’s funny because we spent days looking for the right Christmas present and I grabbed the shave gel in one second because it was on sale! But as I think of it, I remember many of my relatives that same way. My Grandfather on my Mom’s side had the prickliest moustache ever and whenever we saw him he’d give us a big kiss and my brothers and I would complain about how it hurt! I remember my grandmother for her wonderful laugh and how she said Ricky. She called me that until she died, long after I had told everyone else it was not cool to do. It was angelic when she said it. At some point in our lives we were imprinted by something special that creates a lasting impression of those we love. And 99 out of 100 times it’s the simplest of things, a moustache, a laugh, shave gel. What reminds you of those you loved most?
Some people aspire to greatness in deeds and accomplishments. Others make monuments from money they amass and things they collect. My lasting memory is being built on the shoulders of summer afternoons in the swimming pool, throwing grapes in the air and catching them in my mouth and .79 shaving gel. Thank you Gillette for assuring my grandchildren will always remember their grandfather
Have you ever walked down the aisle at the grocery or greeting card store and seen all the events that are celebrated with a card? Anniversaries, get well, miss you, good luck, new home, and a million different holidays. And there are birthday cards, but no where will you find a Re-Birthday card. That’s right, Re-Birthday. Never heard of it? Let me explain.
Six years ago today my wife, Diane, had a stroke. While she didn’t suffer any paralysis from the stroke she did lose the ability to communicate. In the middle of her stroke she was desperately trying to tell me something was wrong and all that came out was jumbled up words that made no sense in the order she was speaking them. She would later tell me that while I was hearing “Cowboy rain pajamas” she was trying to say “I don’t know what’s wrong with me.” While she was writing “Morning lawnmower.” She was trying to write “I need to go to the doctor.” Get her to the doctor we did and the team at Aurora South did amazing work to stabilize Diane and get her on the road to recovery. For the first couple days Diane’s speech didn’t return. She could get a word out, but no two in a row that made sense. The hospital speech therapist visited and gave her a picture board so she could point at the things she was trying to say, or ask for. Diane threw the board and refused to use it. Then on the third day of her recovery, her rebirth happened. Our Priest, Father Steve Adams, visited and asked Diane if she wanted to pray. She said yes…and when asked which prayer she slowly managed to say the Lord’s Prayer. So we held hands and started with Our Father, and Diane said every word of the prayer in perfect order. It was loud…it was clear…and it was the most beautiful thing I have ever heard in my life. I believe that was when Diane was re-born. Father Steve still talks about it being one of the most powerful moments of prayer he’s ever seen. From that moment on Diane’s speech continued to make its way back, slowly at first and then much faster with the help of the brilliant team at Spalding Rehabilitation. I have often told them they did too good a job because she gives me more orders now than she did before!
In the six years since Diane had her stroke she has been a rock and has helped many people through their own obstacles. Even though she still is overwhelmed at times by large crowds and loud events, you likely wouldn’t know she had a stroke if you didn’t know. On August 6, 2006 Diane was given a second chance, re-born if you will. She certainly isn’t special in that regard. Lots of people are given a second chance. We’ve all heard of survivors of car wrecks and other dramatic events. We know people who lived through heart attacks and cancer and other disease to live long productive lives. How often have you said, “Oh if I only had it to do over again.”? Well, these people, my Diane included, have been given that chance. I’ve seen how she lives differently now, and I know many others who have embraced their re-birth to do things differently as well. But why wait for a stroke, or a crash to start over. Why not have a re-birth moment without the hospitalization. That’s the lesson in all this. Not only should our loved one who suffered be moved to change we who were part of the recovery should be moved as well. What do you say? It’s time for a new greeting card, a Happy Re-Birthday card. You only get a second chance once. We should celebrate it!
At some point last night, after I quit watching endless hours of news coverage about the tragedy of the day and reading every news bulletin on the internet, I walked out into my backyard in Aurora, Colorado and sat for a minute. It was a warm summer night with ton of stars out. And it was quiet. And it only added more confusion to the day. It was so peaceful it was impossible to believe that hell had visited earth three miles from where I was sitting. In fact it was easy to think, no this didn't really happen. Then when Diane and I awoke this morning and turned on the TV the first words we heard were, "live from Aurora, Colorado, site of the horrific theater shooting..." Yea, it happened, and the place where I had my first kiss and married my high school sweetheart, the place where we raised two daughters and the place where we've always been happy to come home to, no matter how exotic the trip we've been on, that place is forever changed. I don't know how long it will take but some day the sounds you hear in my hometown will be laughter instead of crying. There will be songs of celebration instead of hymns of grief. There will be first kisses and not last kisses. God Bless you Aurora, Colorado and all those who are in such great pain today. We will heal together.
Have you heard all the talk about the end of the world coming on December 21st of this year because the Mayan Calendar ends on that date? I don’t think there’s much to it myself and figure it was just a case of George the Mayan Calendar maker deciding he wanted a different line of work so he quit one day after he reached December 21, 2012. No, I’m not worried about that day, but I am excited about another day and I want you to save the date. On my way into work this morning a voice started speaking to me. It was 4:10am and I was in the car all alone on I-225, in desperate need of my first cup of coffee and the voice said May 23rd, 2025. Now I must admit over the years I’ve been accused of hearing lots of things, or thinking I heard lots of things. There was that time I was sure Diane said, "Rick, buy yourself a new convertible" when apparently what she really said was, "Rick, buy that car and you’ll be sleeping in it." Good thing the back seat was a bench seat. Anyway, this voice seemed pretty real so I said, "what did you say?", and the voice said, "5-23-25". You’ll retire on 5-23-25. And with that the voice stopped talking and I rode the rest of the way to work in silence reflecting on what had just happened to me.
It’s amazing the voice came to me when it did because I’ve been thinking about what retirement would look like for me a lot lately. I’m not ready to actually be retired I’m just excited about the thought of it happening some day. I’ve been slowly starting to talk with Diane about what that might be like and she has shot back looks that seem to say, are you out of your mind??? So, I’ve been picking my places carefully to bring it up. Look, I’m going to be 56 this year and I like to think there’s a possibility that some day I might be able to enjoy waking up whenever…having breakfast for lunch and wearing black socks with sandals just because I can. I want to go to McDonalds and pay for my coffee with penny’s and ask for seven refills. I want to shop at the grocery store at 10:30am on Wednesday when everyone else is at work. And my biggest dream of all is I want to have a small cabin in the mountains that only Diane, the dogs and I know how to get to. And now, thanks to the voice, I know when that will be. Friday, May 23rd, 2025. I’ll be 67 then and Medicare eligible. It’ll be the Memorial Day weekend and what better time for me to call it quits than with a show that time of year. The Breakfast Club will be 32-years old and people will be tired o me. So, save the date. We’re going to have one heck of a party that day, unless the voice said something else and I misunderstood!!!