The beauty and profundity of David Brooks' reflection, "A message to those in deep despair" (Opinion Exchange, Dec. 11), brought me to tears. As a retired health care chaplain (who's still fully engaged in life), I thought of the countless patients who, as I was leaving their room, would comment, "Chaplain, thank you for listening."

During this hectic and troubled holiday season, I invite us all to put down our electronic devices and really listen — listen to others, to nature and to the stillness in our hearts beckoning us to hope, kindness and compassion.

Jerry C. Vandrovec, Plymouth


Today, I decided to speak as a therapist as well as a person grieving. I hear so many sad stories around the holidays. A lot of them are sadder because of the unmet expectations, the social media pictures of happy families, the Christmas cards showing everyone posing together, the assumption that we're happy — and together. I'm asking for us to consider how many holidays have been perfect or even close to it. How many have been OK, so-so or merely not that good? And how many have been "I couldn't wait to leave" bad?

The holidays are an event where a sense of perspective is infrequently used, which adds to the intensity of feelings producing good and bad outcomes. All the planning and preparation make the event more potentially stressful — if you've done all this work to make it special, it better be good!

Everyone should, I suppose, be expected to behave well; kind, considerate, cheerful. Even if we haven't seen each other since the last holiday when cousin George got into an argument with cousin Susan over politics, and they both sulked the rest of the time. In fact, let's consider how putting a bunch of people who only see each other a couple times a year in a house for, say, eight hours could possibly go wrong.

Here's my therapeutic solution: Lower your expectations. And find one action you can do to make yourself feel good. Like talking to cousin George, who is a funny guy you never get to talk to. Maybe think about one holiday regret from last year. This year, you'll give your mom a hug. Or say a toast to your mom in heaven. Or to all those who are gone.

Yes, there is a place for loss in the holidays. I believe when it's unspoken, it's worse — lonely, isolating and shaming. And my last thought, times being what they are, is to close the door on the holidays knowing you, personally, did your best: You told people you loved them. Let's let the holiday at least be a chance to love and feel loved.

Margot Storti-Marron, Maple Grove


As a longtime Loring Park resident, it was great on Saturday night to see the Holidazzle lights, people lining up for the merry-go-round and sliding down the high slide, and kids posing with Santa Claus. Best of all were the wonderful fireworks that lit up the park and the pond. The vendors selling gifts and food were top-notch. The lights on the trees and the buildings made families feel safe, as did the Park Police.

The Downtown Council showed the neighborhood that it values our downtown park. The council, its financial supporters and its staff deserve a lot of thanks for reminding everyone of what a gem Loring Park is.

Pat Davies, Minneapolis


Add the ever-increasing 'nones'

I strongly support Tom Duke's observations on the draft revisions to Minnesota's social studies standards on teaching about religion ("Religion education fares better in new standards," Opinion Exchange, Dec. 20). In particular I agree that the instruction must include not only history but understanding "how individuals interact with religious identity in the here and now." Some of the opposition to religion in the curriculum stems from the fear of parents that the instruction will be used for religious advocacy. Every effort must be made to ensure that the instruction will be completely neutral.

In his discussion of "religious identity in the here and now" Duke overlooks the dramatic rise of the nonreligious. According to a report released this month by the Pew Research Center, 29% of Americans now describe their religious identity as "atheists, agnostics or 'nothing in particular.'" This is six percentage points higher than it was just five years ago, and 10 points higher than a decade ago.

Instruction about the religious identity of Americans cannot ignore this trend. It should cover causes for it, including the intellectual justification for rejecting belief in the supernatural, ethics based in humanistic values and support for secular government, which guarantees the protection of private religious belief from government influence.

Arguing for inclusive standards for religion in social studies instruction, Duke points out 1 in 4 students experience bullying, some because of their religion. I'd like to remind everyone that atheist children get bullied, too.

George Francis Kane, St. Paul


I grew up in a strong Catholic family 70 years ago, and we were taught that we were part of the one true religion, even to the point of not attending a wedding at a non-Catholic church. Times have certainly changed with the ecumenical movement and religious freedoms in America that offer everyone an opportunity to learn of all the options practiced. I spent a fascinating year in weekly faith formation classes that studied the history through present day of every world religion, and it was perhaps the best educational opportunity since my college days.

I was delighted to read Duke's commentary. After decades of ignorance of religion through separation of church and state, educators are considering adding a broad religious curriculum to social studies in our Minnesota public schools. True progress on diversity acceptance may be far better accomplished through a comprehensive understanding of all different faiths, races and cultures and how they affect each person around us. We may finally understand that we are not that much different, and face similar challenges in finding our way through this life embracing a faith in hope for so much more.

Michael Tillemans, Minneapolis


A tale of Christmases and copyrights

I enjoyed Chris Hewitt's Dec. 20 article about the holiday classic "It's a Wonderful Life," but as a professor of copyright law I have one small quibble ("It's a 'Wonderful' anniversary"). The article is right that Republic Pictures' failure to renew the copyright (a formality U.S. law eventually abandoned) meant that the movie appeared to fall into the public domain in 1974. This in turn allowed TV stations to broadcast it for free, and over time helped develop the appreciative audience the film lacked when it debuted in 1946.

A 1990 Supreme Court decision, however — concerning another Jimmy Stewart film, "Rear Window" — prompted Republic, which still owned the copyright to the short story on which "It's a Wonderful Life" was based, to assert that any unauthorized broadcast of the film would infringe the rights in the story. Republic reached an agreement with NBC, and as a result the film isn't shown as frequently as it was in the 1970s. (For further discussion, see the Samantha Kosarzycki article to which the Hewitt piece links.) By contrast, the so-bad-it's-good "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians" lost its copyright when it debuted in 1964, for failure to comply with another formality the U.S. later abandoned, and as far as I know it still remains in the public domain.

Thomas Cotter, Hopkins

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