Christmas Every Day of the Year

Find some place comfortable to read this post.

Sit back, relax. Close your eyes. Empty your mind of all thoughts and worries. 

Now I want you to go to a special place, a place in your memories. The memory is of a good time, a happy time, a time you want to last forever. 

The memory might involve a family gathering or a time of recognition. For many, the memory is connected to a holiday or social event. For many in the Western world it will be a time from childhood and Christmas time.

Hold that memory. We will return to it shortly.

 

A Modern History

Johan Huizinga begins his book. The Autumn of the Middle Ages, with these words:

When the world was half a thousand years younger all events had  much sharper outlines than now. The distance between sadness and joy, between good and bad fortune, seemed to be much greater than for us; every experience had that degree of directness and absoluteness that joy and sadness still have in the mind of a child.

It is impossible to understand the deep despair of an event unless you lived through it. We can read all we want about the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918 to 1921. You still only know facts. There is no risk to you from the event; it is history.

 

I am writing this for Christmas 2021. Contemporaries will understand what I am about to explain; those who stumble across these words decades from now will never understand what it was really like to live in 2020 or 2021. Rather than spew facts, let me do my best to convey the emotions of the event.

January 2020 was a time filled with preparation and hope. Another tax season was upon my team and me. Plans were in place for a smooth execution of affairs. Client work would flow through a well designed process to assure accuracy and timely filing.

Early February was like any other tax season and I had no worries. There was a rumbling in the news of a disease in China that was spreading the planet. I paid no heed. 

Within a few weeks nervousness took hold as the virus was spreading rapidly. Hospitals were filling and people were dying. Rumors began of locking down the United States. This kind of thing hasn’t taken place here in living memory.

It still wasn’t in Wisconsin, where I live and work. I prayed this virus would hold off long enough to finish tax season. Then the calendar turned to March.

On March 9th two Wisconsin residents tested positive for COVID. The writing was on the wall. This would be a tax season like none experienced before.

Two days later a basketball player tested positive. Game over.

March 13: All Wisconsin public and private schools were closed by order of the governor until April 5th. Any hope I could finish tax season before the full force of the pandemic hit home evaporated. 

Three days later several counties closed bars and restaurants.

Another three days and Wisconsin now had 155 confirmed cases of the virus. Hospitals were filling fast and people started dying. 

March 23: Wisconsin governor, Tony Evers, by order, closed all nonessential businesses. I called my attorney to find out if I was required to close my business. It wasn’t. It didn’t matter.

Soon, an eerie quite descended. It is hard to explain the sound or the lack thereof. The closest I can come is a particular Christmas morning. I wrote about that experience here

You have no idea how much noise humans make. The sound of machines is everywhere. Even out in the boondocks where I live it is noticeable. Now it was all going to stop.

The sound of traffic disappeared. There wasn’t a plane to be found in the sky. With nothing to do, I walked out my office and stood in the middle of the normally busy highway. There were no cars in either direction as far as the eye could see. All sounds of human activity had stopped. It was surreal.

Eighteen months later 6% of my clients would be dead.

 

Personal History

More than 1 in 17 clients died in the following year and a half. I may have attended more Celebration of Life ceremonies during this time than the rest of my career combined. 

COVID did not kill them all. In fact, the virus played a relatively small role in direct deaths. However, the restrictive rules (wear a mask, social distance (even from loved ones), shelter in place) took a toll. Many clients that left this world were clients from the early days of my practice. People do get old and die sometimes.

I would tell you about how old I feel, knowing I have worked my business for so long clients who seemed young when they first arrived have aged and now died. Perhaps the feelings I feel is a late arrival mid-life crisis. Or maybe, just maybe, I’m getting older, too. I don’t feel old so that can’t really be it.

Yet, I would be absconding my duties if I did not share the story of a client who died a few months ago.

It was about this time of year. Not Christmas, but New Year’s Eve. I don’t remember the exact year, but it had to be somewhere in the years 1992 -1994. I know this because my office was in the basement of my home at the time. 

Christmas is important; New Year’s Eve, not so much.

It is rare for me to leave the house on the last day of the year. Normally I stay up late and read a book until midnight. I smile at the new year and go to bed. This New Year’s Eve would be different.

Around 11 I was snuggled into my easy chair with a book on my lap for the year in question. Mrs. Accountant was in bed and we had no children yet.

A loud scream interrupted my reading. I turned to look out my living room window to see a woman fall from the window of a car. She fell hard and lay curled like a child on the pavement. 

Earlier it rained, turning to freezing rain. The ice on the road had sharp dimples.

The woman cried as she lay in the roadway. She was half clothed and was not wearing shoes. If a car happened by she would be hit and killed, or worse.

I quickly put my book down and ran out the door. 

“You can’t stay on the road, ” I said to the woman as I reached her side. “If a car comes you will be hit. You need to get to the side of the road.”

She tried to stand. The cold, sharp needles of ice and a heavy level of intoxication made it difficult for her to move. I held her hand as she gingerly made it to the curb.

I questioned her about what happened. She stammered about her abusive boyfriend. 

Getting nervous he might come back, I encouraged her to let me take her into my home. She could not walk the distance in her condition so I carried her. I set her down inside the entranceway. She slid to sitting.

I told her I was going to call the police. She begged me not to call the police. “Call my brother. He will pick me up,” she said. She gave me the phone number.

“I have an office in the basement. I will call from there. I will be right back,” I said. I went to my office and called the police.

Within minutes the police were in my home and Mrs. Accountant was awake wondering what her husband has gotten into now. The injured woman ducked when she saw the red and blue lights. The police made her nervous. 

Paramedics came. The woman was helped. The boyfriend returned to the scene of the crime before the excitement was over. The police had a serious talk with him. Then, all was quiet. Like the moment on the highway 25 years later.

By now it was midnight. Time to say goodbye to the old year and welcome the new. 

But the story doesn’t end there. The gooseflesh part of the story is yet to be told.

 

A few months later I was deep into tax season and totally forgot about the prior New Year’s Eve’s event. A husband and wife client came in to drop off their taxes. They owned rentals and the husband even did some repairs and maintenance on my rentals owned at the time.

The wife started telling me this story about a tenant that was in an abusive relationship and was pushed from a moving car New Year’s Eve. “A kind man helped her, even taking her into his home and calling for help,” my client said.

A lump developed in my throat.

The client told me how the injured woman finally was able, due to the events of New Year’s Eve, to leave the abusive man.

I finally said, “I know about the woman pushed from the window of the moving car.”

“You do?”

“Yes. It happened between my driveway and the corner,” I said pointing in the direction of the road.

I paused, concerned about what my client would say if I told her my involvement. Finally, I said, “I was that nice man.”

We filled in details for each other on the woman’s situation for the next half hour before life once again returned to normal. Well, as normal as this accountant’s life ever seems to get.

 

What are the odds? I lived in the Fox Cites at the time. The metro area has something like 300,000 people. What are the odds a woman would be thrown from a moving vehicle in front of my home and that she would be a tenant of a client? How long are the odds I would help a woman in an abusive relationship before the year is out when less than an hour of the year remains? 

100%, it seems.

For some reason, everything we do comes full circle. You have experienced similar situations where one action leads to another that leads to another that brings you around back to the beginning. 

All our thoughts and feelings do not happen in a vacuum. What you say, do and even think, will play a future roll in your life.

And that brings us full circle in this blog post. Remember how I asked you to close your eyes and think of that wonderful time and place in your memories? Well, we are ending up at the beginning.

Father and child. One of the best memories you can have.

Christmas Every Day of the Year

In Huizinga’s quote he lays out the dichotomies in life from time past compared to the present. He states how in times past the highs and lows were much wider, and that only the experiences of “that joy and sadness still have in the mind of a child” comes close to the extremes of historical times.

How can anyone reading this even come close to knowing what it felt like to live as the middle ages crawled to a close? Can anyone in the room understand what it was like in 1918? With a war raging in Europe and a disease killing by the truckload? Not a chance.

Kind readers, even if you lived the pandemic I currently live in, it will be hard to fully grasp the world I describe. Your children and children’s children will have no clue what the world of 2020 and 2021 was like. The pain is so great many contemporaries deny the reality of what is happening. What is the chance a future generation can comprehend what we are living as I write these words?

Those memories of wonderful times will be different for each of us. They will not be the same as being there, of course. Like the stories above, there is no substitute for living heightened emotions of the time as they happen.

Yet, there are only a few things you can do that nobody can stop you from doing. Namely, you can control what you think, about how you interpret what happens to you and to others around the world. You control how you respond mentally, unless you give that up, allowing others to think for you. 

You can be forced to take a vaccine or refuse to take the medicine that ups the odds of ending the pandemic sooner.

You can wear a mask or rip the mask off another. The choice is yours.

You can act responsible, talk responsibly. This is not 100% in your control. People or natural events can restrict any physical action you take. 

But not your thoughts! What you think, how you think, that is up to you and you alone. You choose. The only way to loose that right is to give it away voluntarily. 

Marcus Aurelius reminds us: Feel as if you have not been harmed, and you haven’t. 

This is knowledge as old as the Stoics. It is their major tenet. We can learn a lot from wise people of history.

 

People are dying. They always have been. And in the end we are all dead. It is what we do in the interim that counts. Do we go to that special place in our memories? That place where life was carefree? Back to our childhood and Christmas Eve? Or do we give away the only thing we have complete control of?

Do we get vaccinated because it is the right thing to do or do we whine about our rights? Yes, vaccines are not perfect. But the vaccine will up the odds the pandemic ends sooner and that we survive if we get our virus lottery ticket. We also reduce the chance that we spread the disease. Do you come to the aid of an abused woman, pushed from the window of a moving car? Or are you the kind of person that worries about your comfort so much, that the abuser may return while you are present, that you turn your back and risk additional injury or even death to an innocent victim?

The same applies to wearing a mask, social distancing and other behavior that reduces infection risk.

The latest variant of the virus, omicron, is very contagious. More contagious than any pervious variant. The good news so far is that it seems to be less deadly. 

Still, old variants continue to roam the populace. And omicron still kills, if only at lower percentages.

You might get the infection. It may not harm you. But. . .

As every gambler knows you have to play to win. You only need one ticket to win the lottery. 

 

Merry Christmas

and a 

Happy New Year

to all.

Hold your dearest memories close and commit to doing the right thing as you create new memories.

It is all any of us really have.

 

 

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Medi-Share is a low cost way to manage health care costs. As health insurance premiums continue to sky rocket, there is an alternative preserving the wealth of families all over America. Here is my review of Medi-Share and additional resources to bring health care under control in your household.

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How to Pay Another’s Debt

I was recently interviewed for a podcast where one of the interviewers asked why I used such difficult words in my blog. I was taken aback by the question because I don’t think I use 50¢ words unless it is to increase clarity. 

In this third and last installment of Christmas themed personal finance posts I am going to be guilty of the most egregious crime: I will use another 50¢ word to convey a message of importance.

It started with the popular current activity of paying for the person behind you in the checkout line or fast food drive-through. It certainly is  fine gesture of goodwill. I rarely eat at fast food restaurants, but started to wonder what I would do if my meal were paid for. Would I pay for the person behind me if there was someone behind me in line to keep the cycle going?

The more I thought about it the more it disturbed me. Why should my meal be comped when I have ample financial resources? Shouldn’t the money be applied where needed the most, with people suffering financial hardship?

The same thing happens at the grocery store. A kind fellow (or woman) pays for the groceries of someone next to them. I like this more because it is at least easier to determine if the person in question could use the financial help. But that isn’t a guarantee, however. I dress down often and look like a homeless man more often than not. You can ask my employees. I’ve been known to wander in wearing worn jogging pants and a t-shirt. Judging a book by its cover is a 50/50 proposition at best.

The act of kindness I find most beneficial is when someone pays the utility bills for several people who are struggling financially, as noted by their delinquent bill. 

Regardless the Christmas spirit, there is always a nagging voice warning me such behavior could be counter-productive or going to the wrong soul.

 

A Christmas Carol

I can’t imagine there is anyone reading this post that is unfamiliar with the short Charles Dickens holiday novel, A Christmas Carol. Most have seen one of the myriad adaptions of the book. Some renditions are really good and some are left lacking and untrue to the original story.

We all remember the ghosts visiting Scrooge: the ghost of Christmas past, present and future. It is the ghost of Christmas present that interests us most. 

As you recall, the ghost of Christmas present took Scrooge to see his nephew’s house and the laughter-filled party. It was a humble celebration for sure, but celebration no less.  But that was not all the ghost of Christmas present had to reveal. 

Upon leaving the Cratchits’, Scrooge was taken from the city of London to the “deserted moor” of a miners camp; then to a solitary lighthouse under the crash of waves; and finally to the desk of a ship far out at sea. In each instance the celebration was humble. Kind words, the humming of a Christmas tune were the extent of the Christmas celebrations. It was humility the spirit wanted Scrooge to see; humility while celebrating the greatest hope ever offered.

And then Scrooge heard laughter, the laughter of his nephew as he is ripped back to the scene of Christmas present closer to home. 

 

Propitiation

Now for our 50¢ word. You might remember this word from church if you are a person of faith. Propitiation is generally used in religion to mean “the paying of another’s debts”. A more accurate representation of propitiation is to “appease”. 

Today’s 50¢ word is required because the meaning is so much deeper and richer and the explanation spreads far further than mere appeasement. This is part of your life in the secular world as well.

To propitiate is to seek favor. That is opposite of my pay-it-forward philosophy. Paying for the person’s meal behind me creates a debt for that person. What if the person behind you is poorer than you and barely has the funds to pay for his own meal and the person behind him has a more expensive meal? You did no favors to that one person.

A child who breaks a vase might wash the dishes for mom before being asked as a peace offering; a form of propitiation. 

An act of propitiation must be conciliatory. You are sorry for some action or words spoken. Propitiation is more than saying, “Sorry.” It is an act meant to convey your deep-felt sorrow for having committed the act or saying the words. A single word is rarely adequate to propitiate. 

Why do we feel compelled to propitiate? And why is it so important? Because it really deals with trust. You show an act of kindness so the person knows they can trust you and the negative act or words were unintended. It is unlikely you would feel compelled to propitiate to a stranger. A simple “Sorry” suffices if you cut a stranger off. But a friend, someone you trust and want to trust you requires more if you value the relationship.

This is not to take away from the value to giving to others. This is the season of giving. But is it giving if you saddle yourself with debt? How will the people close to you, and that trust you, feel if you cause personal money problems because you gave too much?

I strongly feel the pull of charity. Life has been very good to me. However, I measure carefully the gifts I give. I do not want to enable bad behavior or make matters worse. Working through money problems is hard, but gives you the skills to survive the rest of your life without much outside help. There is something to be said about that. 

 

Christmas Present

While Scrooge learned to share with all after the visit from the Christmas ghosts, he focused his giving where it did most good. Scrooge understood propitiation. The fat turkey was sent to the Cratchits’ household; extra coal for heat was allowed at the office. 

The pages of my copy of A Christmas Carol are yellow with some pages torn. The book has been with me a very long time. I think I bought it when I was in junior high as part of a book drive at school. I thought it was a book of Christmas songs, if memory serves. I was unenlightened in my youth. Time has remedied the issue.

Periodically I pull the text from my shelves for a reminder on how to live life right. I look back in my life to gather a full assessment of where I have been. Everyone has things they would rather have forgotten. But in the dark brutal honestly is the only way. 

After reviewing your past, take an inventory of the present. Life, you will find, is probably a lot better than you allow yourself to enjoy.There are so many things to be grateful for: family, health (you are alive and reading this, right?), neighbors (they are better than you think), community and so forth.

Once you review your past and take an inventory of the present, you can create the future most desirable to you. Money problems can be addressed, love rekindled with your spouse or significant other, serving in your community where it benefits most. Remember, you cannot control what “they” do, but you have complete control over what “you” do and think.

 

Pay-It-Forward

If you want to pay for the meal of the person behind you, go for it!  It was not my intention to dissuade you from such behavior. There is something heart-warming about the activity. Even this weary-eyed blogger has paid for the groceries of an older lady at the grocery store when he saw the need.

The greatest gift of all.

Be sure to focus your gifts where they will produce the intended outcome. 

A final story: Years ago I was coming home from work in a snow storm. Tax season was getting long and I was tired. The car in front of me lost control, a snow drift throwing the car. He ended up in the ditch.

I stopped to make sure the young man was unharmed. People didn’t have cell phones in those days the way we do today, so I offered to drive him home. He accepted. 

As I dropped him off at his home he asked me what I wanted for the ride, indicating money. I waved my hand “no”.

He was a young gentleman and it was obvious he was not financially flush. I didn’t help him with the intention of earning a fee. The good feeling knowing he got home safe was enough.

I left the young man with these words: “The next time you see someone in need, you help them. That is all I ask.

 

That was a very long time ago. Sometimes I wonder if the young man ever carried out my directive. 

Please don’t think I am against giving. Gifts to friends, family or co-workers is a fine activity. Keep it reasonable so nobody suffers financially as a result.

Helping strangers is the ultimate charity. Homeless and abuse shelters are wonderful ways to give where it makes a large difference to those who really need help.

Some gifts are debts. You may hear of propitiation at church this Christmas season. You may wish to appease a family member or friend you treated poorly to regain trust. 

No matter your reasons, always be ready to pay-it-forward. Just never do more harm by the giving.

 

MERRY CHRISTMAS, kind readers. May the spirit of the season be with you and your family all year round. 

 

 

More Wealth Building Resources

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Medi-Share is a low cost way to manage health care costs. As health insurance premiums continue to sky rocket, there is an alternative preserving the wealth of families all over America. Here is my review of Medi-Share and additional resources to bring health care under control in your household.

QuickBooks is a daily part of life in my office. Managing a business requires accurate books without wasting time. QuickBooks is an excellent tool for managing your business, rental properties, side hustle and personal finances.

cost segregation study can reduce taxes $100,000 for income property owners. Here is my review of how cost segregation studies work and how to get one yourself.

Worthy Financial offers a flat 5% on their investment. You can read my review here. 

Silent Night: A Christmas Story of Love and Hope

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The year is 1991. Mrs. Accountant and I had a foster child that year. On Christmas morning I was to take him to his mother for a day. We got up early and dressed for the chilly morn. I lived in town at the time. His mother lived in apartments near the Valley Fair Mall, the first mall in America.

The mall is gone now, replaced by a variety of shops, a gas station, and a movie theater. The apartments still stand. As I drove down Memorial Drive we rounded the curve toward the apartments. The road was dead quiet. No cars anywhere. It felt peaceful. A major highway completely empty. It only happens once per year on Christmas morning. I stopped the car in the middle of the road and watched a lone snowflake land on the glass and melt. I leaned forward and looked up at the early morning sky out the windshield. The hair on my skin rose with gooseflesh.

“Where is everyone,” asked my foster child, a huge young man from a family with more issues than I care to remember.

“They are sleeping,” I said in barely a whisper. “Resting. But not for long. They are exhausted from all the running and spending. Resting for a day. Tomorrow they will be back, crazed as ever, credit card in hand.” I turned to my foster child, “Never be like them.”

 

There is a tavern near my office, owned by a client. It is Christmas Eve. I finish a few details in the office before heading home to be with my family. The lights are on at the tavern I do tax work for. I stop. There is only one customer in the place, another client.

All the TVs are off save one. That television has a game of basketball playing. The announcer’s voice is the only sound in the room. As the customer’s glass nears the bottom, the bartender refills it without a word. The words of Billy Joel come to mind:

“Yes, they’re sharing a drink called “Loneliness”, but it’s better than drinking alone.”

I wish them “Merry Christmas”, shaking their hands with a wide smile. They smile back, but their eyes do not. I turn and go home to my wife and daughters.

 

delicate-arch-night-stars-landscapeThe next year on Christmas Eve I decided to visit a client in the nearby nursing home. She doesn’t come in anymore; she doesn’t make enough and isn’t required to file. The hallways are empty and silent. I walk to her room. I can hear the sound of my footsteps on the carpet. The sound of a small low-quality television is coming from her room.

The door is slightly ajar. I tap. Nothing. I slowly push the door open. My client turns, smiling at recognizing a familiar face. She says nothing. Words are hard for her; she is 97. She hasn’t had a visitor in decades. Her husband died thirty years ago. Her parents and siblings are residents of the local cemetery. She never remarried or had children. I hold her hand as a 1950s sitcom plays in black and white on the TV. Her hand is cold, clammy. She places her other hand on the top of mine. The warmth of my hand warms hers. No words are spoken.

I stand to leave and say, “Merry Christmas”, giving her a hug and a kiss on the forehead. She has a pale smile. A solitary tear streams from her rheumy eyes.

Three days later she dies.

 

I live and work in a rural farming community. A client of many years with a drinking problem left the house one Christmas Eve. He walked to the barn, the pain of life too much to bear.

The next morning the children wondered where dad had gone. They find their father in the barn hanging from the end of a rope. It is early Christmas morning.

 

Fifteen years after our foster child went home for good with his mother he notices me at my new office location and stops. He introduces me to his girlfriend. I don’t know what to say. He explains he was hooked on drugs and his mother was the one who introduced him to the drugs. It ended his college and football career. He is a big boy. He could easily have made it in the big league if things were different.

We shook hands and he left. I never saw him again. That was ten years ago.

 

When the world was half a thousand years younger all events had much sharper outlines than now. The distance between sadness and joy, between good and bad fortune, seemed to be much greater than for us; every experience had that degree of directness and absoluteness that joy and sadness still have in the mind of a child. So begins Johan Huizinga’s The Autumn of the Middle Ages.

That gapping dichotomy of joy and sadness only exists around Christmas now.

 

The office is growing quiet as Christmas approaches. I stare out the window behind my desk and wonder which client I will see this year. The employees are joking and laughing across the way. All day clients came in dropping off gifts. I don’t give gifts. It doesn’t matter. There was a gift on my desk this morning from my Secret Santa. Chocolate. Dawn, of course.

It is nighttime now. Mrs. Accountant and my youngest daughter are in bed. My oldest daughter sits on the couch watching a movie on her computer. She can see something is wrong. I fill my water glass nearly to the top with Jack and take a deep draught.

I carry the whisky to the front window and look up at the clear winter sky. After a few minutes I put on a light jacket and walk outside. My oldest gets mom and her sister. They watch out the window, afraid I might walk toward the barn.

The sky is filled with diamonds of sparkling points. The crisp winter air causes me to shiver. I wonder if one of those stars has a planet and on that planet is an intelligent creature looking up from her night sky and wondering if anyone is looking back. I wonder.

I tip the cup and drink deeply, allowing the liquid to burn as it goes down. The stars are not crisp anymore. The alcohol is doing its job of killing the pain and blinding my sight. The whisky is reaching its conclusion. I take a deep breath and wonder if my client is at the bar again this Christmas Eve drinking alone.

I wonder. I wonder what happened to our foster children, if they ever had a chance at life. I wonder.

I wonder if the old woman is in heaven with her husband now. I wonder if she ever found peace.

Tomorrow is Christmas Day. Memorial Drive will be as silent as a horror movie the day after the world ends. I will not be there to witness the event.

Two girls look out the window at their dad, one woman at her husband. They can see I am weeping. They know I carry a heavy burden, a burden of years loving and caring for the people I serve. They also know there is a mental and emotional price to pay for caring so deeply for the people you serve.

The whisky is gone now, but the pain remains. Clouds begin to obscure the stars and a few fluffy flakes of snow gently travel to the ground. Mrs. Accountant and the girls are at my side and nudging me to return to the warmth of our home. I know why they are there. They are worried I might not find my way into the house and instead walk to the barn.

They take me by the elbow and guide me back inside as I bid farewell for another year to a

Silent Night.