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December 25, 2022
my sports column in the Portland Oregonian on Christmas Day 1987. It was about a magic soccer ball. And peace on
little boy, Henri, lived in northeastern France, along the
Rhine River. In December 1939, his little village was flanked by troops - French and German. The Germans were on their nation's
side of the Rhine, camped beyond the raised railroad tracks that ran parallel to the river. Yet a few occasionally wandered
to the river, within sight of the village, to wash and drink.
Henri's father was stationed somewhere to the north. Henri hadn't
seen him since Germany invaded Poland on September 1, causing France and Great Britain to declare war. So far in France, it
was being called the "drole de guerre" -- the odd war of silence. In Germany, Adolf Hitler was denouncing
the weather that forced him to push back the date of the Western offensive, once planned for November.
Many of the families in Henri's village had fled. Others, like Henri and his mother, stubbornly
remained. Henri didn't understand the political complexities, but he did sense he was living in a time of nightmares,
not fulfilled dreams.
During Christmas week, Henri's mother sang carols
to him and made him gifts by candlelight after he was in bed. Henri had been considering asking for a new football,
so he and his village friends could kick it around in their meadow game. He thought of the joy that could bring. For months,
there had been no new balls for the remaining children. The old ones were in tatters and misshapen.
Yet Henri decided he rather would have something else. One day as he and his mother walked through
the village, he said he had wished that his father -- and all the fathers -- could come home before anyone else was hurt or
Henri's mother stopped and hugged
him tightly. She wiped her eyes with her hands. When she grasped Henri's hand again, he noticed their hands were wet.
on Christmas morning, Henri spotted the
new football in the middle of the cottage. He smelled the new leather, then sensed a warm glow radiating from the ball. His
mother was stunned. "But who...?" she asked. She had no idea where it had come from; her homemade gifts for Henri were in the corner.
Henri embraced his mother, then ran, hollering, to the meadow. Dozens of children followed him. Their
game began, as if nothing was wrong with the world. Despite cold weather, the children quickly became warm as they played.
They squealed and dived and collided and helped each other up.
to keep score.
German soldiers walked up to the river to watch. French
soldiers lined the meadow.
Leaving the game, Henri walked to the river and beckoned across, to the Germans. A group of them climbed into boats,
which had appeared as if out of nowhere. They started across the river. Henri signaled to some French soldiers, and they walked into the meadow as the Germans left the boats
and walked onto French soil. The children's game ended. In the meadow, the soldiers' game began: France vs. Germany.
They played for two hours. Again, nobody kept track of the goals. After the soldiers quit, they
embraced and conversed with smiles and pantomime and words the other "side" couldn't understand.
The Germans rowed back across the river.
after Henri carried the ball home, and even
as he kept bringing it into the meadow daily, neither the French nor the German soldiers could shake the sensation. On the
German side of the river, it spread with blitzkrieg swiftness through the ranks, across Germany, Austria and occupied Czechoslovakia
and Poland. Soon, Hitler's troops no longer wanted to conquer in the name of the Fuhrer. A military cabal overthrew Hitler,
and the Germans withdrew to within their borders. The forces of Japan left China. The war ended, as did the persecution and
murder of Jewish citizens throughout Europe. European nations either retained, or regained, independence.
for peace of other little boys and girls were fulfilled from that time forth, from Europe, to the Middle East, to Southeast
Asia; from nations to city streets to high schools to homes. "Peace on Earth" became a perpetual reality, not a
And as the year 2023 loomed, Henri's ball still was as good as
May we truly have peace on earth.