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A Brief Message After One Of The Busiest Weeks Of My Adult Life

Every now and then, we have one of those weeks that really tests us. Whether you’re in high school or a working adult, you just find yourself navigating each day like it’s a marathon after another marathon. It’s exhausting, draining, stressful, and even frustrating most of the time.

Then, you make it to the end of the week and it feels so good.

That’s basically the week I just had. I feel like this past week has been one of the hardest of my adult life. I won’t get into all the details why, mostly because it would require a book’s worth of backstory, context, and plot. I’ll just say that I found myself juggling way more challenges than most over the span of just a few days. On more than one occasion, I honestly didn’t know if I would be able to manage it all.

But in the end, I did.

I didn’t just make it to the end of the week. I actually finished everything I wanted to finish and did it with a sense of pride, accomplishment, and confidence. That just made it all the more rewarding.

I’ve had long, arduous weeks before. Sometimes, I’ve had several in a row, but this week was different. It felt like a perfect storm of issues and challenges. All sorts of factors, none of which I could control, seemed to converge on just a handful of days. That doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it’s usually very stressful.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to manage that stress. I like to think I’m better at it now than I was when I was a younger. That still didn’t make it any less draining. When I got home yesterday, I basically fell onto my bed and just laid there for a while. I also enjoyed an extra glass of whiskey, which is typically my preferred method of unwinding on Friday nights. And I can confirm it tasted that much sweeter.

I know it’s a bit cliché to say that hard work can be very rewarding, especially for those doing jobs they hate or dealing with issues that frustrate them. However, there is something to be said about making it through a difficult week and succeeding in everything you set out to do. It really is uniquely satisfying. It shows just how strong you are and how far you’ve come.

I’ll likely face other weeks like that in the future. Everyone reading this now will probably face the same. Take heed from this message.

You will make it through.

You will overcome.

You will be stronger because of it.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, there’s another glass of whiskey waiting for me.

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Why You Should Get A Yearly Flu Shot (And My Worst Experience With The Flu)

Should you get a flu shot this year? | India News,The Indian Express

For the past year, I’ve gone out of my way to urge people to get vaccinated against COVID-19 while also pointing out why anti-vaxx arguments are ridiculously stupid. Honestly, I’m sick of doing that and I’m sick of talking about this. I wish getting a vaccine didn’t have to be a point of contention, but that’s just the state of the world we live in.

Again, get vaccinated people. You’ll end this pandemic and save lives in the process.

That being said, I’d like to add another layer to this effort. It’s not quite as dire as the current situation with COVID-19, but it’s still relevant, given that it involves our health and ways we can improve it. It has to do flu shots.

Now, let me start by making clear that the flu is not as serious as COVID-19. Despite the claims of certain misinformed pundits, the typical flu is less likely to kill you than COVID-19. You still don’t want to get either because even if it doesn’t kill you, having the flu is an awful experience.

You feel like crap for almost an entire week.

You can barely eat anything and even when you do, it’s hard to keep down.

Your face is flushed all the time, your nose is stuffy, your throat is sore, and your head won’t stop pounding from the inside.

It’s just an all-around bad time for you and your body. If you’re older or happen to be in poor health, it can be even more serious. People do die because of the flu and it’s not a trivial figure, either.

That’s why I encourage everyone to get a yearly flu shot, especially this year. Last year was bad enough, but this year is even more critical. Now that lockdowns are over and people are trying to live life as it was before the COVID-19 pandemic, the flu is likely to make a comeback.

As such, if you can get a flu shot, do what you have to do in order to get it. Do it for yourself and your family. I certainly plan on doing so. If you need information on doing so, the CDC has an entire section of their website dedicated to it.

It’s not a conspiracy.

It’s not an agenda.

It’s just a shot that’ll protect you from another disease you don’t want to get.

To further reinforce that point, I’d like to share a quick story about the worst flu I ever got and how it affected my attitudes towards flu shots. It’s not a very pleasant story, but I hope it gets the point across as to why flu shots are critical.

To set the stage and context, this occurred back when I was in the seventh grade. At this point in my life, I wasn’t in great shape overall. However, aside from bad allergies and acne, I was in generally good health. I hadn’t been seriously sick beyond a common cold in years. As a result, I saw little need for flu shots.

Then, one evening, I started feeling a little ill. I can remember exactly when it happened. It was around 7:00 p.m. one evening. I’d finished dinner and my folks were watching TV. It started with a sore throat and a cough, but it was nothing I hadn’t dealt with before. I thought I’d feel fine after I slept it off.

I was very wrong.

When I woke up the next morning, I felt terrible. My joints hurt, my head hurt, my sinuses were stuffed up, and I was so weak you could knock me over with a feather. I don’t remember looking in the mirror that morning, but I’m pretty sure I looked like hell.

Despite all that, I still thought I could make it to school that day. I thought it was just something that would wear off after I got going. I made an effort to get dressed, get some breakfast, and walk to school. My mother kept encouraging me not to, but I didn’t listen.

In hindsight, this was a terrible decision.

I managed to make it to school. But just as my first class began, my body just gave out. I couldn’t keep my head up and I couldn’t focus. My teacher naturally sent me to the school clinic. Once there, the nurse said I had a 101-degree fever. That’s pretty bad, even for a seventh grader.

My mom had to come and pick me up. To her credit, she didn’t say, “I told you so.” She just took me home, laid me down on the couch, gave me some medicine, and let me sleep.

The next few days sucked, but they weren’t nearly s bad as the first. I was so weak, tired, and sickly that I couldn’t do much aside from watch TV. At one point, I ran out of favorite movies to watch. I tried playing video games, but my head was in such a fog that I didn’t have much fun.

It was just such a terrible experience overall. Even after I got better, I made it a point to take the flu serious from that day forward. I always got a flu shot when it was available. I also took my health a bit more seriously, even though I wouldn’t get in shape until years later. I think that experience helped inform future health habits that have stuck with me to this day.

I still wish I didn’t have to go through that to learn the value of good health and flu shots. I certainly don’t want anyone to have to learn those hard lessons like I did. Even if the flu is not life-threatening, it’s just not an experience you want to have.

So please, if you can, get a flu shot this year.

Get one every year if you can. Take it from someone who learned the hard way. Having the flu sucks. A vaccine can help protect you from it and after living through a pandemic, we should all make the effort.

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A Thankful Message For Thanksgiving 2021

The following is a video from my YouTube channel, Jack’s World. It’s just a brief message of thanks for all those who have helped my channel grow so much over the past year-and-a-half, as well as a personal story to help get everyone in the Thanksgiving spirit. Enjoy!

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How I Dealt With A Bully (And Why I Don’t Recommend It)

Should You Confront Your Old Bully?

Bullies suck. I think most of us can agree on that. Those who don’t probably haven’t been on the receiving end of a bully at some point in their lives. They’re the lucky ones. Most of us can’t rely on that kind of luck.

Now, before I go any further, I want to make clear that this isn’t some generic anti-bullying PSA. There are already way too many of those and even if their intentions are good, they don’t always send the right message.

That has been my experience with these campaigns. They claim to understand the dynamics of bullying. They offer a list of responses and recourses, some of which are more helpful than others. Some are downright counterproductive. They all miss one key detail.

Every bullying situation is different.

Every bully is different.

Every target of a bully is different.

The dynamics behind every instance of bullying is different.

In short, not every case of bullying plays out the same way and there’s no one proper way to deal with it. Not every bully is Biff Tannen and not every victim is George McFly. One well-placed punch isn’t going to completely rectify a situation. Just ignoring it won’t rectify it, either.

With that in mind, I’d like to share another personal story about how I dealt with a bully. It’s not nearly as dramatic as you might see in the movies, but it worked out in my favor for the most part. In fact, to say it worked out might be a bit of a stretch. You’ll understand why when you hear the details.

This incident played out when I was in the 9th grade. It was not a good time for me. I was depressed, socially awkward, and had pretty much no self-esteem. I also had a bad attitude that made me fairly unpopular and an easy target. In hindsight, I think it was only a matter of time before a bully found me.

For the sake of this story, let’s call this kid Don. He was no Biff Tannen, but he was a real asshole. This kid was my age, but he was behind the curve when it came to maturity. He and a bunch of like-minded friends liked to goof off, screw with people, and do their own thing. They weren’t exactly caricatures from 80s teen movies, but they were close.

As it just so happened, Don rode the same bus as I did. In fact, he got off at the same stop that I did. He lived less than two blocks from me. Due to that proximity, he took an interest in me. He started teasing me and asking dumb, embarrassing questions. Sometimes he did it on the bus. Sometimes he did it in the middle of a class. Whenever he did it, I hated it.

Me being the immature, self-loathing kid that I was, I didn’t deal with it very well. I often tried to tell him off. I cussed him out. That only seemed to encourage him. I never tried to fight him, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t tempted.

It also helped, somewhat, that I wasn’t in good shape and would probably lose that fight. Don was no athlete, but he was bigger than me and willing to do dumb shit to win. I had no advantages, whatsoever.

I still wanted it to stop. I had enough problems in my life. I didn’t need to deal with Don and his antics. I wasn’t sure how I was going to deal with it. I got some advice from the adults in my life. They often told me to just ignore him and avoid him. If he ever laid a hand on me, then I should go to a school administrator. I didn’t want it to get to that point.

Unfortunately, ignoring Don didn’t make him stop. If anything, it encouraged him to keep doing it. He didn’t get bored. He just saw someone he could tease and get away with. That wasn’t something the anti-bullying PSAs told me.

At some point, I had to respond. Yelling at him wasn’t working. Trying to politely ask him to stop wasn’t working. This was an immature knuckle-head who wasn’t going to be reasoned with. If I was going to respond, it had to be very blunt and very effective.

It finally came to ahead one day on the bus. We were waiting to leave to go home for the day. Like he had before, Don decided to move up to my seat and start harassing me. I don’t remember what he said. I just remember he wouldn’t go away. He kept asking me these dumb question and teasing me when I didn’t respond.

He just would not stop and he would not leave. I was tempted to punch him in the face, but I knew that probably wouldn’t pan out. If I threw the first punch, then I would be blamed for everything. I may have been young, but I knew how school politics work.

Finally, I decided to respond.

I didn’t punch him.

I didn’t break something he had on him.

Instead, I just looked at him with as much hate as I could muster and I spit right in his eye.

At that moment, Don’s goofy and immature demeanor disappeared in an instant. He turned away to rub his eye. I wasn’t sure if he was crying or anything. At the time, I honestly didn’t care. I didn’t move from where I sat. I just remained where I sat, waiting for a response.

Eventually, I got it. He tried to spit at me too. He missed, only hitting my ear. After that, he left and went to the back of the bus with his friends.

That was it.

That was the end of it. Don never talked to me ever again.

Now, I do not recommend anyone do that with a bully. Spitting in someone’s eye isn’t as bad as a punch, but it still counts as assault. Had Don gone to a school administrator, he could’ve gotten me into a lot of trouble. However, he didn’t and I think I know why. He would’ve had to explain why the situation got so heated and since he instigated it, he would’ve gotten in trouble too.

Even so, I’m not proud of what I did. I didn’t feel better about myself. I doubt Don felt better, either. Had there been more witnesses or had someone reported us, it could’ve gotten much worse. At the same time, I could’ve handled that much better, even for a moody teenager.

Again, do not take this as advice for dealing with a bully. There’s a good chance it will not work out as well as it did for me. I got lucky in this case. Don’t expect to get that lucky when dealing with a bully.

Also, Don, if you’re reading this, I apologize for spitting in your eye. However, you were still a huge asshole.

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My Old Backpack And Why I Can’t Throw It Away

Tips to Ensure your Backpack Lasts Longer - ICSB 2007

We all have certain possessions that mean something to us. They don’t always have to be family heirlooms or valuable collectables. Sometimes, we grow attached to certain things that don’t have any real value outside their use. If anyone else had the same thing, they probably would throw it away without a second thought.

It’s not a matter of hoarding, which is an objectively unhealthy habit when done in excess. It’s a matter of just attaching sentimental value for something in an unexpected way.

I bring all this up because something strange happened recently. After coming back from my vacation to the beach, I thought it was high time I buy a new backpack. Actually, that’s just me being polite. I was exceedingly overdue to buy a new means of carrying small items to nearby places.

That’s because, for reasons I don’t have a good explanation for, I’ve been using the same backpack since my senior year of high school. I don’t remember the exact day I bought that backpack, but I can safely surmise it’s nearly 20 years old. To get an idea of just how old it is, it still has a special pocket for flip phones.

I know I probably just dated myself there, but I’m trying to illustrate an important point. That backpack has served me well for many years. I used it through my entire college career. I used it through multiple jobs and careers. I used it while moving several times to new places. It has carried comics, laptops, and any number of critically important items over the years.

Basically, if it was something I had to keep close, it went in my backpack and that backpack never left my side for too long. If it sounds like I’m overstating the value of this thing, I apologize. It’s nothing fancy. It’s just a backpack, but it literally helped carry me through my entire adult life.

Along the way, it stayed intact and durable. In terms of mundane the possessions I’ve owned, it held up better than almost anything from that long ago.

None of my clothes have lasted that long.

None of my gadgets have lasted that long.

Hell, this backpack has outlived most dogs.

Even though I ultimately bought a new one, it’s still relatively intact. Granted, some parts of it have seen some wear and tear. There are some areas that are faded. There are also some parts that have become a bit torn. However, all the zippers still work and all the compartments are still usable. If I had to, I could still take it out of my closet and use it.

Perhaps it’s because it held up for so long that I can’t bring myself to throw it away. I had it with me during some major milestones in my life. It kept me organized and equipped for some major challenges and memorable trips. My life may have changed a great deal since I bought it, but it has remained one of the few constants.

I think, for that reason, I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to throw it away anytime soon. I even remember having strange feelings when my new backpack arrived. Once I took it out and cleaned out my old backpack, I found myself just holding it up and looking at it for a good couple of minutes.

It had been a long time since it was completely empty. In holding it like that, I remembered how much I’d used it over the years and how much it helped me in so many ways. For something that wasn’t expensive, flashy, or stylish, it did more than I ever could’ve hoped. How many other possessions can we say that for?

Even though the new backpack I got is considerably better in terms of size, features, and storage, it just doesn’t have the same history as my old backpack. Hopefully, it lasts just as long and carries me through just as many ordeals. Even if it does, I may still have my old backpack lying around somewhere. I may still have it years from now.

If it sounds like I’m making too big a deal about a simple backpack, I apologize. I just wanted to share this strange experience because I think it’s something a lot of people encounter over the course of their lives. They come across some mundane possession and grow attached to it for reasons they don’t understand.

Years later, even after they’ve upgraded to something better, they just can’t bring themselves to throw it away. Maybe it’s a watch, a coffee mug, a footrest, or a blanket. Whatever it is, it means something to us personally. Even if it didn’t cost much when we bought it, it became valuable to us in unexpected ways.

For me, it happened with a simple backpack that I bought during high school. For others, it might have been something else. Having shared my story about my backpack, I welcome anyone with a similar experience to share theirs in the comments. What have you owned that gained unexpected personal value? Whatever it was, I hope it served you as well as my old backpack.

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High School: My Experience, Perspective, and Advice

The following is a video from my YouTube Channel, Jack’s World. It’s a more personal video in that it contains some real-life experiences that I wanted to share. With schools set to open again very soon, I felt the time was right to reach out to those who are just entering high school. For me, it was a dark and sad period in my life. However, it didn’t have to be. I made it that way. As such, I want to offer some advice to others so that their experiences can be better than mine. Enjoy!

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COVID-19 Restrictions Lifted: Thoughts, Feelings, And (Unexpected) Implications

Mayo Expert: Fla. Will Suffer 'Unnecessary Deaths' As COVID-19 Restrictions  Are Lifted | WJCT NEWS

This past week marked a huge milestone for my home state. Like so many others, the COVID-19 restrictions that have pretty much defined our lives since late March of 2020 were finally lifted. At this very moment, we are no longer in a State of Emergency.

There are no more capacity restrictions on restaurants, bars, gyms, and movie theaters.

There are no more mask requirements that are enforced by the state.

There are no more social distancing requirements for outdoor or indoor events.

Just typing that out put a smile on my face. It also fills me with this strange array of emotions that I don’t quite know how to articulate. Like so many other fellow Americans, I watched this year-long horror show that was the COVID-19 pandemic unfold before my eyes.

I felt it affect me, my friends, my community, and my family in profound ways. I know people who got the disease. Some of them still don’t have their sense of taste and smell back entirely. I know people who have died from this disease. I also was unable to attend major family events, including a wedding, because of this damned disease.

I could go on, but I won’t. It’s just impossible to overstate how big an impact this disease had on our world. It’s going to leave scars that will last years. It’s going to define an entire generation and beyond. If I ever have kids, I’m going to struggle to explain to them what it was like, navigating this pandemic.

For a time, it felt truly apocalyptic. There was a long stretch last year where my dad and I were constantly making up dates for when things would get back to “normal.” At one point, it was May 15th, 2020. At another, we thought the 4th of July would be the end of it. Then, we started looking towards Labor Day.

At some point, we just came to realize that there was no use hoping anymore. We had no idea when this would end. For all we knew, this pandemic would draw out for years. Even after news about a vaccine emerged, we were still skeptical. A life without COVID-19 restrictions still seemed so far away.

Now, that day has come.

However, the effects are still there.

Recently, I went out to have breakfast with my parents at one of our favorite diners. There were no capacity restrictions. There were no mask requirements either. However, a number of people were still wearing masks, including most of the staff. My parents even wore masks when they first entered, even though they’re both fully vaccinated. I didn’t wear one, but I had one with me, just in case.

To some extent, it was downright jarring, not having to wear a mask. Yes, it was liberating in some ways, but it still felt so unusual after having spent over a year under these restrictions. You almost feel more vulnerable not wearing one, especially in an enclosed space like a crowded diner. I’m sure that’s a feeling we’ll have to get used to again, but it doesn’t change one inescapable truth.

This “normal” that we’ve been waiting for doesn’t feel “normal” to us anymore.

I don’t know if that’s temporary or if that’s something that will linger on for years to come. I know people who have stated outright that they’re going to keep wearing masks, even if the number of COVID-19 cases drops to zero. To them, the mask has become just another part of their lives. The see it like a seatbelt or hand soap. It’s not about avoiding a disease anymore. It’s about staying healthy.

That’s an implication that I don’t know that we’ve collectively processed. I certainly haven’t. I’ve no inclination to throw away my masks. I also have no plans to stop the frequent handwashing that I’ve come to embrace since last March. That does lead me to wonder whether this is truly our new “normal.”

I put that in quotes because, now that the state mandated restrictions are lifted, it’s on us to determine what form that normal takes. Will that mean always wearing a mask in certain settings? Just the other day, I went to the grocery store and I still wore a mask. The signs on the front doors saying they were required were still there. Until they come down, I’ll keep doing so.

At the same time, a part of me feels like I’m still adjusting. I’m almost reluctant to embrace a post-pandemic world because I saw how bad it got last year. Maybe that feeling will fade with time. Maybe within a few months, mask wearing will become a rarity and everyone will be eager to put the memories of the pandemic behind them.

I don’t claim to know what will happen. I just know that it’s going to take a while to get out of this mindset that a year of pandemic restrictions has wrought.

That’s just my experience, though. How do you feel? Have the restrictions in your state been lifted? If so, how have you and your family reacted? Please feel free to share your thoughts and experiences in the comments.

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Winter Wonderland Memories: The Blizzard Of 96

It’s the middle of winter. Unless you’re living in a tropical or semi-tropical climate, it be depressing. Outside, it’s cold, it’s barren, and the simple act of going out to get the mail requires too many layers of clothing.

It’s not my favorite time of year, to say the least. After Christmas, I’m pretty much ready for winter to be over. In a perfect world, there’s one single snowstorm from Christmas Eve until the day after Christmas. After that, we go right into summer.

Sadly, we don’t live in that world. I live in the mid-Atlantic region of the United States. This is an area that doesn’t see the kind of snow you’d get in places like Buffalo, Boston, or Chicago. We’ll get a few flurries and snow showers here and there, but it’s nothing that you need to shovel.

In fact, a major snowstorm is fairly rare in my area. When it does it, people get a little anxious. I have friends and relatives from up north who think it’s hilarious that we freak out over a mere six inches of snow. Having spent some time in places like Buffalo, I see why they feel that way.

However, every once in a while, my area gets hit with a storm that even people from Buffalo and Boston think is serious. They don’t happen every year. We can sometimes go several years without a storm that will dump more than ten inches. Even among those storms, there are some that were so bad that we remember them for years to come.

Well, in the spirit of winter, I’d like to share one of those memories. I imagine anyone living in my area around this time has similar memories. That’s because I’m going to talk about one of the worst blizzards my area ever got. It doesn’t have a name. We just call it the Blizzard of 96.

Admittedly, it’s not a very original name, but make no mistake. This was a storm that left a hell of an impression from New York to Washington, DC.

I remember this storm for many reasons. Most notably, I remember it as one of those rare storms that earned us an entire week off school. As kids in grade school, that was our primary way of measuring how severe a snowstorm was. In hindsight, though, that did not do justice to just how big this storm was.

Again, I live in an area that does not get storms like this regularly. We can handle a few snow showers here and there. This storm dumped over two feet on us in the span of three days. Even by Canada standards, that’s a lot of snow.

My memories of that storm still stand out, more so than most. One of the most vivid was just the night before the storm rolled in. I’ll never forget it. I was sitting on the couch with my dad. We were both watching the weather forecast like it was the World Series. My dad, who had seen his share of snowstorms, just looked at me and said, “Here it comes.”

I went to bed that night with just some light flurries coming down. It was barley enough to coat the tops of my parents’ cars. I then woke up the next morning and it was a total white out.

Every inch of grass and every inch of road was completely covered.

Every tree and bush was covered.

It was a hell of a scene. As a kid, I was just excited because it meant school was definitely cancelled. It also meant my friends and I were going to have some winter fun. However, that’s where I once again underestimated this storm.

The snow was so heavy and got so deep that normal winter activities like sledding and snowball fights were impossible. We couldn’t run around in it. The snow came all the way up to our waist. We couldn’t sled in it because it was so fresh you just couldn’t get any traction. It was really unlike any storm we had ever been through.

At one point, and this is another memory that stands out, we just decided to climb into the back of my dad’s truck and sit in the snow-filled back like it was a hot tub. I don’t remember who’s idea it was. I just remember it was snowing so hard that we just couldn’t come up with another way to enjoy it.

That blizzard ultimately became the storm by which I measured every future snowstorm. In the years that followed, I lived through more major snowstorms, some of which were larger than the Blizzard of 96. However, none of those storms have left the same impression. I don’t know if I’ll ever encounter a winter storm that will have that kind of impact. Hopefully, before it ever hits this area, I’ll have long since retired to a tropical climate.

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Recounting A Special Christmas Gift (And What Made It So Special)

The holidays are a special time of year. Even in a year like this, we should appreciate that. If anything, a year like this should help us appreciate it even more. Even if we can’t have big Christmas parties or shop in crowded malls, the spirit of the season is something to cherish.

I certainly have a fondness for the holidays. I’ve made no secret of that. I think a year like this has inspired me to get more personal and share more holiday joy than usual. If it helps distract us from how awful 2020 has been, I’m happy to contribute.

To that end, I’d like to share a personal holiday memory that is near and dear to my heart. It’s also fairly recent, so I won’t rely on the kind of child-like excitement that comes with getting your first bike or video game console.

That being said, I still rank my first Super Nintendo as the greatest Christmas gift of all time, but that’s a story for another time.

This particular story happened just last year, long before we knew 2020 was going to crush our spirits. It involves a very special gift that I received from my brother. I’m not sure if he reads this site regularly, but he knows better than anyone why this gift was so special.

To set the stage, I need to explain some of my family’s holiday traditions. Ours aren’t that unique. Me, my siblings, and their significant others all gather at my parents’ house. We all bring our gifts, put them under the tree, and make opening them this big shared event. It’s simple, but it hits all the right holiday tones.

Traditionally, my family knows what to get me long before Christmas. They know me well and they know my tastes are simple. Get me some comic books, some superhero apparel, or something related to football and I’m a happy guy. I like to think I’m fairly easy to shop for.

That didn’t stop my brother from going the extra mile this year. As it just so happened, his was one of the last gifts I’d opened. At that point, I was already a happy guy, swimming in new comics and clothes. This last gift, however, caught me by surprise in a very personal way.

I still remember holding the seemingly innocuous box. It didn’t look like anything elaborate. For all I knew, it was another comic or Blu-Ray movie. I just casually opened it. That’s when I saw it.

It was a framed picture.

Specifically, it was a picture of my grandmother, who had passed away just a few years ago.

Seeing her again, even in a picture, hit me in a way I didn’t respect. Even though she had been gone for years at that point, seeing her again reminded me of how much I missed her. It was somewhat jarring, but in a good way.

I just remember taking the picture out, holding it up, and looking at it for a good long while. I might have disrupted the overall jolly spirit of the room, but I think they understood why.

My brother, along with the rest of my family, knew how close I was to my grandmother. They also knew how hard it was for her during her final years. I visited her regularly and I watched as her health declined. It wasn’t easy, to say the least.

It helped that this particular picture that my brother framed was taken shortly before she fell ill. She was still smiling, as lively as any woman in her 90s could be at that point. Seeing that look on her face, even if it was just in a picture, was enough to make my heart skip a beat.

I almost broke down, but I managed to keep it together. It helped that my older sister came over and hugged me. She knew how much my grandmother meant to me, as well. It was a powerful moment, but one that made both that gift and that Christmas extra special.

That picture my brother gave me still has a prominent place on my shelf. As I write this, it’s right behind me. It still brings me comfort to this day, seeing my grandmother in that picture. For that, I’ll always be grateful to her and to my brother for giving me such a special gift.

Bro, if you’re reading this, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Thank you for making that Christmas special and for going the extra mile in giving me that gift. You’re the best!

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Filed under Jack Fisher's Insights, real stories, Uplifting Stories

Why We Should End The Taboo About Giving Gift Cards

The holidays are here and we should not let the general awfulness of 2020 prevent us from celebrating. I just want to put that out there because I feel like it needs to be said. I understand we can’t celebrate the holidays like we have in previous years due to a once-in-a-century pandemic, but we should still celebrate.

If nothing else, we should celebrate having made it through this year. Regardless of your religious affiliation or traditions, that’s an accomplishment in and of itself.

I love Christmas and the holidays. I fully intend to celebrate in my own festive way with friends and family. I already have my Christmas tree up and I’ve had it up since the first week of November. However, this year may require certain adjustments from my usual holiday activities, but I’m willing to do that for the spirit of the season.

As I and many others do so, I think this is a good time to re-evaluate certain holiday taboos. I’m not referring to any of those associated with religion. There’s a time and a place to talk about that exceedingly touchy issue. This is not one of them.

This particular taboo has to do with gift-giving, which happens to be the holiday tradition I take most seriously. Ask any member of my family, from my parents to my siblings to even my former roommates, and they’ll say the same thing. I go the extra mile when it comes to Christmas presents.

I’ll spend more money than I should.

I’ll buy more gifts than I should.

I’ll put in extra time, thought, and effort.

I’ll often pester people in asking them what they want, making a point to tell me before Thanksgiving.

Getting Christmas gifts for my loved ones is a big deal to me. I take pride in my ability to go the extra mile and make my family feel extra loved during the holidays. It brings me a special kind of joy.

As a result of that approach to holiday gift giving, I tend to avoid the kinds of low-effort gifts that send the wrong message. That usually means I try not to get gift cards or cash for someone. To me, that’s just too impersonal. It implies I didn’t make the effort to show how much I love and care for the person I’m giving this gift to.

I’m not alone in that feeling. Gifting gift cards does have a bit of a taboo to it, even as more and more people shop online. If you were to give your lover a gift card for your anniversary, chances are they’ll be somewhat disappointed. It almost seems like a cop-out, as though you don’t trust yourself to get a meaningful gift for someone.

I understand that sentiment to some extent, but I also think that taboo is waning somewhat. After a year like 2020, when millions of people were stuck in lockdowns for weeks on end, I think it’s waning even faster. Honestly, I think that’s a good thing and we should use this holiday season as an opportunity.

For many people, including myself, it’s just not going to be possible to travel for the holiday. The big holiday gatherings that so many of us treasure just can’t be done safely during a global pandemic. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t exchange gifts. We just have to be smart about it and gift cards could help.

These days, gift cards are a lot more useful than the traditional gift certificates of the past. I’m old enough to remember how limited they were. Before the days of Amazon, getting a gift certificate usually meant getting something for a specific store. You could only use it at that store and it usually had an expiration date.

In some instances, it worked out. If you knew someone went to a place like Best Buy or Wal-Mart all the time, a gift certificate could certainly be useful. It was still considered very impersonal. It wasn’t the kind of gift you gave someone for Christmas. It was usually a birthday gift and even then, it was often a gift of last resort.

Now, in an era where you can buy pretty much anything online, the time is right to flip the script. If you know someone has an Amazon account that they frequently use, then why should a $50 Amazon gift card be taboo? Why should it be a gift of last resort that requires an excuse?

Love them or hate them, you can buy a lot from Amazon with a $50 gift card. You could buy a movie you don’t have, both digital or Blu-ray. You could buy a video game, although not the latest releases. You could buy multiple books and be certain they’re books you want to read and haven’t read already.

From a practical standpoint, that gift card is very useful and there’s a near-certain chance it’ll get used. You can’t always say that about a traditional gift. I’ve gotten people gifts that I was certain they’d use frequently, but they never made it out of the box. That’s the chance you take with any gift exchange.

It’s still a great feeling when you get someone that perfect gift. I can attest to the joy that comes with that accomplishment. I also don’t deny that the perfect gift is not always possible. I’ve got plenty of relatives and family members who are hard to shop for and often tell me they really don’t need anything from me.

However, I know that even those hard-to-shop-for relatives would get use out of an Amazon gift card. That may not make it the perfect gift, but it would still be incredibly useful and sometimes that’s the most you can hope for.

In a year like this, when traveling and shopping have been incredibly restricted by the pandemic, I think a simple Amazon gift card should be acceptable. Even if you don’t like giving or receiving gift cards, this is the year when we should all be willing to make an exception.

That doesn’t mean it has to be impersonal. You can still make giving someone a gift card feel festive.

One year, I got an $50 Amazon gift card for a relative. However, I didn’t just stick it in an envelope or bag. I actually put it in a standard 14 by 9.5 box and wrapped it in shiny wrapping paper. To hide the contents, I even put some washers inside to make it heavier. The relative loved it and I know they used that gift card.

You could either do that or find some other festive way to present it. You don’t have to be overly elaborate with wrapping paper or packaging. You just have to show a little extra effort, which will go a long way towards making a gift card feeling less impersonal.

In the future, long after this pandemic has passed, we may get to a point where that kind of gift-giving is no longer taboo. It may even be the norm, if only to ensure that your loved ones get something useful on the holidays.

There will always be a place for more personal gift-giving. I don’t doubt that. However, I think certain practices and taboos need tweaking. We already live in a new era where shopping from home has never been easier. Let’s use that as a way to supplement our holiday spirits moving forward. After a year like 2020, we’ll need it.

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Filed under Current Events, rants