Ben Stein's Diary

The Perfect Christmas Gift

As we review 2013 and look ahead.

By 12.20.13

Creative Commons

Now, it’s December 19, 2013. This has been a busy year for me and a year filled with sorrow and triumph and with far too much loss.

It rushed by, as time does when you get old, and now, a few recollections of the year come into my mind.

Lying in the sun room of our home in Sandpoint, Idaho, with the perfectly light blue sky of North Idaho out the windows to the west and to the east, watching an occasional eagle or sea bird or immense osprey glide by. Then closing my eyes as I heard and felt the immense rumble of Mr. Buffett’s BNSF trains going by. I did that almost every day last summer and by the end of the summer, I felt as if those trains and those osprey and that sky had kept me alive. My wife would almost always be in her reading room next door and I could talk to her in my train loving haze.

Mr. Buffett gets billions from the trains, I imagine, but I get far more than that. I get a euphoric feeling that I will not only survive but triumph. It had been a summer of extreme worry about whether the economy was slipping back into recession, and I felt reassured by the power of those trains.

In some way, they are a measure of Mr. Buffett’s astounding power, and of the power of mankind itself. To be able to let that power wash over me, enter my brains and my soul — that is pleasure.

For some reason, I know not why, I seem to have been catapulted into a higher level of speech giving than hitherto, and I spoke to some power house groups. There was a medical care private equity company that I spoke to in Torrey Pines. The audience was breathtakingly smart and pleasant. There was the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia. They were filled with praise and I don’t think I have ever felt a greater affinity with an audience. I left there on a cloud. Deby Englander, the woman who arranged it all, is a gift of kindness and capability.

There was the Aerospace Industries Association in Scottsdale. I was genuinely dizzy as they told me of their achievements and their success — and genuinely terrified as they told me what the Obama sequester is doing to the defense readiness of this nation.

On that trip, I met a woman from Central Europe who came to my room to change my towels and told me about life in a place far away, in circumstances far more trying than I will ever be able to imagine until I am fatally ill. Yet she was lively, charming, alert, not young, but lovely. As a hotel housemaid she had more personality than any of the anchors on MSNBC. Her deprived Soviet childhood could not keep her down. More power to her.

One afternoon at my apartment in West Hollywood, a beautiful blond woman in a cocktail dress played Mozart for me, then packed up her music stand and left. She was a stunner and she knew Mozart.

I spent a big chunk of the year in the South. First of all, visiting my son and daughter-in-law and granddaughter in what is probably as beautiful a medium-sized town as there is: Greenville, South Carolina. I found fellowship and love and support there from people whose hearts are as genuine, solid, and filled with the love of God as any people I have ever met. I sat in a basement of a meeting room and felt the spirit of the Lord. These are humble people, close to the earth, close to heaven.

At the Poinsett Club in Greenville, I had some of the best food I have ever had: steak, baked potatoes, prime rib, carrots, served in stately rooms by waiters and waitresses who care about every morsel. I wish I could have those men and women waiting on me every day of the year for the rest of my life.

There is a woman who plays piano on the weekends and makes the place just explode with nostalgia and romance as I look at the courtesy and elegance of the best of the South.

You, dear readers, know how often I wonder at how crazy looking people on TV and at LAX are. Where, I often ask, are the sane people? Now, I know. They are the members and the staff at the Poinsett Club. Intelligent, thoughtful, neatly proportioned faces with clean features. Again, modest, despite skill and achievement. The salt of the earth right there in the Palmetto State.  

And how I love the South as a general matter: speaking to oil people in Houston, handsome men and beautiful women bursting with self-confidence, talking to charities in Alabama and South Carolina, driving the country roads of Talbot County. To me, the South is enchanted country. It has a magic that says that anything can happen here. Your mesmerizing wife came from here, so it has to be enchanted.

I keep thinking of two meals I had at the Shoals Marriott in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, where I had the best rolls I have ever had and listened to a band and two drunk women urged me to dance with them.

“Now, Muscle Shoals has got the Swampers, and they’ve been known to pick a tune or two. Lord, they get me off so much, they pick me up when I’m feeling blue, now how about you.”

(Other verse) “In Birmingham they love the Guv’nor, now we all did what we could do. Now Watergate does not bother me. Does your conscience bother you?”

One of the best songs ever: “Sweet Home Alabama.”

I walked across the Wilson Dam highway going over the Tennessee River and friendly drivers lifted one index finger off the steering wheel to greet me.

I stopped at a high school on the way from Muscle Shoals to the Huntsville, Alabama airport. Cute, cute kids, including a girl with blue hair reading 1984… she totally ignored me.

The South has a hold on me. I grew up in Maryland but I think it’s my wife, whose family is from Mississippi and Arkansas, whose blood draws me into the South.

Many of her family died in the War Between the States.

The most memorable moment of the year was when my friend Bob and I were the only guests at the Robert Morris Inn dining room and had the best seared liver I have ever had. Roaring fire, heavenly food, chef Mark Salter making conversation. A great way to live.

On the family front, my wife was extremely ill for a long period and lost an immense amount of weight. She has an elegant, wraith like quality, just as kind and heavenly as an archangel. It is almost impossible to believe that any real human could be of supernal glory. My daughter-in-law and my granddaughter continued to be unimaginably beautiful. Our son continued to debate with the elders in the Temple of Zion. 

My wifey is fine now.

She’s my goddess.

Mr. Obama should have had a year where they threw him out of office. He lied so viciously about Obamacare, caused so much grief, handled it all with such total effrontery, that he should have been sent packing.

Of course, he wasn’t. Not for that or his lies about Benghazi or his complete lies about what his foreign policy would accomplish in the Middle East. He inherited real foreign policy and defense power and handed over world leadership to Vladimir Putin. Was this always his plan or did it just work out this way?

My own bet is that he is so ignorant that he really thought that he was dealing with the likes of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams in Egypt and Libya and was taken utterly by surprise when the mobs turned out to be, well, mobs.

None of it was as big a mistake as invading Iraq, so let’s be fair: where the Middle East is concerned, once we leave Israel, we are in the quicksands of hatred and violence.

Did Mr. Obama come to office planning to betray Israel and Saudi Arabia and turn over hegemony among the Arabs and Persians to Iran? I think it was in his head but even he didn’t know it right away.

Never mind. He’ll get away with it because he’s one of the beautiful people. “He’s the biggest celebrity in the world. But is he ready to lead?” Now we know the answer and it’s a disaster. Our housekeepers just lost their health insurance and they both have diabetes. They are panicked. Thank you, Mr. Obama, you lying con man.

Well, more on all of that later. For now, let’s stay a bit closer to home: 

If you’re like me or like everyone I know at this season, you’re overwhelmed. You have to finish up your year’s work, pay your bills, feed the cats, and then you have to buy gifts. It’s exhausting having holidays.

That thought was weighing me down and suddenly it occurred to me what to give everyone. It doesn’t cost anything and if the people you give the gift to don’t appreciate it now, they will some day.

Just go through your head and think of everyone who has bothered you, offended you, hurt you either purposely or negligently, and say to yourself, “I forgive them and I pray for them to have a great year.”

Then, just send a card to each of the people on your forgiveness list and say, “It’s been a hard year money wise and I’ve been really snowed under, but I want you to know I love you and care about you and pray for you. And you have enough sweaters and aprons, but you can never have enough love or enough prayers, so you can count on me loving you and praying for you every day in 2014.”

Then, mail out those cards — don’t email them, mail them.

Then lie in the dark and say to yourself, “Self, I screwed up a heck of a lot of my year. I spent too much money. I wasted days and weeks doing silly things on line. I neglected people who were important to me and now some of them are dead. Self, I forgive you and I love you and I will pray for you, which is me, because forgiveness means nothing if you don’t forgive yourself. And I hope I’ll do better in 2014, but I probably won’t. I’m just a person. I didn’t found an Internet company that makes imaginary widgets and made its owners billionaires before they could shave. I’m just a person. I am not a billionaire. I am just the man or woman God made me and I forgive myself for it.”

Then, that’s your gift to yourself. And for everyone else — forgiveness.

So, now you have it all, and you can relax and enjoy the season. 

From this fat old man who just might be Santa Claus, Merry Christmas.

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About the Author

Ben Stein is a writer, actor, economist, and lawyer living in Beverly Hills and Malibu. He writes "Ben Stein's Diary" for every issue of The American Spectator.