NUTS! Why Remembering Christmas 1944 Can Change Your Life

by Marcus Brotherton on December 18, 2012 · 107 comments

in A Man's Life

Last Monday I crapped in a plastic bag.

There is no nice way to say that. No genteel or sanitized way to describe the experience.

I’d just started taking a new medicine to combat a spastic colon, which I’ve battled on and off for ten years. The medicine promised to do remarkable things.

Instead, it made my condition worse.

En route to an appointment, I was gripped with a sudden, urgent, and uncontrollable need to use the can. There were no exits from the freeway on that stretch of road, no public restrooms or gas stations for miles in any direction. I wasn’t going to make it. So I did the only thing I could think of. I pulled onto the shoulder, set my hazard lights, and did what needed to be done.

I tell that story for a reason.

In this day and age of Facebook personalities, it’s easy to start believing another person’s life is as problem-free as described in an online bio. In my case, I’m a New York Times bestselling author. I’ve got a master’s degree. I’ve got a great wife and family and have travelled all over the world. If you know me only by my bio, then I’m an enviable man.

But here’s the fuller version of the truth. There’s one tiny area of life—in my case, a medical weakness—that I can’t seem to conquer no matter how hard I try.

I bet that you, in your most honest moments, could say something similar about yourself. You’re a capable and confident man. Still, there’s one area of your life where you’re hurting or weak, where you lack control, or can’t seem to overcome. Even Superman had his kryptonite. Achilles had his heel.

Maybe it’s a broken relationship. Or an incident of grief or illness or financial trouble. Maybe you’re grappling with anger or meaninglessness or hopelessness or you’re suffering from an addiction or you’re depressed or tired or you can’t get a job, or you work too hard and get paid far less than you’re worth. Maybe you’re simply stressed out and need a break.

Here’s hope. When I pulled off the road last Monday, I was genuinely miserable. I was sweating and cursing, and feeling embarrassed, and worried that a motorcycle cop was going to come along and ask me what I was doing. I was hating my life.

But in that moment, one word flashed through my mind. It’s a word weighted with determination, and it reminded me not to give up, no matter what life threw at me.


Here’s the story behind the word.

In late November 1944, Allied soldiers were charged with holding the line at a small Belgian town called Bastogne. Word flew in that Hitler was pushing hard and fast, making a last-ditch effort to swing the tide of the war back in his favor. Bastogne proved strategic due to seven crossroads that snaked through the town, roads vital in the transport of troops and ammunition.

If Hitler controlled Bastogne, he would win the war.

The Allied soldiers were rushed up to Bastogne in trucks. They hiked out into the forest in the mud and freezing rain, made a perimeter around the town, dug foxholes, and waited. Food, winter clothing, medical supplies, and ammunition were scarce. Some men didn’t even have boots. They wrapped their feet in burlap bags to stay warm.

The enemy made a larger ring around the Allied troops, dug in, and also waited. Snow began to fall. The temperature plummeted. It became Belgium’s coldest winter in 30 years. The Allied soldiers guarding Bastogne were surrounded.

Then the shelling began. Blood ran. Men on both sides took bullets, lost limbs, and died.

Weeks wore on with little progress. Christmas neared. The two armies were positioned so closely to each other that at night Allied troops could hear their enemies across the line—they were huddled in their foxholes singing Silent Night in German.

On Christmas Eve, 1944, General Anthony McAuliffe, commander of the 101st Airborne Division, issued a flier to his men. It was headlined “Merry Christmas,” and the general wrote, “What’s merry about all this, you ask? We’re fighting. It’s cold. We aren’t home.” He went on to praise Allied troops for stopping flat everything the enemy was throwing at them. Then he described a story that happened two days earlier.

On December 22, the commander of the German army had sent word to McAuliffe. The enemy commander had painted a bleak picture of the Allied position, and insisted there was only one option to save the Allied troops from total annihilation.


When McAuliffe read the demands, he fumed, then sent back to the German commander a reply of only one word.


When the messenger asked for further explanation, he was told, “It’s the equivalent of saying, ‘Go to hell.’”

So, how does remembering Christmas 1944 change your life?

Yesterday evening I went to the mall with my family to do some Christmas shopping. We went into The Gap, and I noticed on the wall a recently-released poster of Michael J. Fox and his wife Tracy Pollan. They were doing a promotional piece to advertise the store.

Michael and Tracy were poised in a warm embrace. Tracy’s face was turned away from the camera, but Michael was staring straight into the lens. There were lines underneath his eyes. Some lines from age. Some from laughter. Some from experience. Some from fighting.

And I stared at that poster.

I stared at it a long time.

Michael J. Fox, like Muhammad Ali, has been battling Parkinson’s disease for years. At present, it’s still an unwinnable disease, and its symptoms have only increased in Michael over time.

But here was Michael on a poster in The Gap.

Still working.

Still loving his wife.

Still fighting hard.

Still saying NUTS!

No matter what weakness or problem you’re battling, a dark option always exists to crumble under life’s hardships. When you feel miserable, you’re tempted to quit under the weight of the difficulty.

That’s why remembering Christmas 1944 can change your life. It reminds you that even when life hits you hard, even if you’re fighting in a frozen forest, even if you have Parkinson’s, even if you’re crapping in a bag by the side of the freeway, you keep on going.

You refuse to surrender.

You say, NUTS!

When faced with a difficulty, what ways have you found to persevere through?


Marcus Brotherton is a regular contributor to Art of Manliness. Read his blog, Men Who Lead Well, at:

Photos Courtesy of Joe Muccia


{ 107 comments… read them below or add one }

101 Ant Lockyer January 16, 2013 at 6:55 am

This has been my attitude for some time. when I got diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes this year NUTS! was my first reaction. then I went further to try and draw out the positives.

102 Keith Jones January 16, 2013 at 11:58 am

This is very similar to the Dudeist “Fuck It” way of life, which although uncouth, is somewhat profound. A fantastic post, thank you.

103 Collin January 17, 2013 at 7:20 pm

“If this is the worst thing I face today, it’s a good day” First Sarg. Speed
It has served me in combat, and civilian life many times.

104 Dale January 18, 2013 at 11:42 am

I’m a scoutmaster and every week I do a “scoutmasters minute” at the end of each meeting. 2 weeks ago I had the scouts come outside, “Leave your coats” and spoke to them about Bastonge and why the men didn’t have cold weather gear. The absolute rufusal to leave the lines under the worst condiitions turned the battle, Many a battle is won through absolute rufusal to give in

105 Anthony February 19, 2013 at 10:35 am

Great article Marcus. I used to have bowel issues but adjusting my diet has resolved them. Check out

106 Gretchen Leaf February 26, 2013 at 9:35 am

My heart weeps…tears of JOY in KNOWING just WHAT our men (and now women as well…) do each & every day to STAND for the USA.
My memories as a young girl were of my Uncle Eric (now in Arlington) who was in WWII…were of my FATHER’s saying to me THESE WORDS that ERIC said to him: “I have sent better men than you to their deaths.” – meaning how he would have to send troops of men to HOLD a hill or position so that we would MAINTAIN & be able to defend & transfer men, supplies, + to the next advance…only to be then held & then done over & over. He never meant it in a derogatory way (in case anyone ‘feels this’ from reading this statement…all was well), only that there were MANY young, vibrant men who WILLFULLY presented themselves to MAINTAIN – ALL that we so ‘freely’ enjoy today.
Our ‘freedom’ is NOT ‘free’ – it is BOUGHT, BOUGHT with the most precious commodity we have…the SOULS of individuals who BELIEVE. *NEVER GIVE UP!*, never give up, never give up!!!

107 Bill January 13, 2014 at 10:06 am

The Scouting experience teaches life skills, survival skills and patriotism.
“nuts” to those who try to elimate it and allow “sex” to be an issue when it is not.

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