Every year, I hold onto Christmas and the winter holidays for as long as I can. I look forward to basking in the love of the day, the generosity of people, the special sense of giving, and, inevitably, the remarkably clear memories that I have of so many Decembers past: bluebird ski days, epic blizzards and peering up from an icy car window, truly believing I might catch a glimpse of eight flying reindeer.

Last Christmas, long after my wife and new puppy had gone to bed, I sat in the living room watching the candles flickering in the fireplace. Later, when I blew them out, I stared out at the stars. I wanted to soak in that long moment of universal peace, knowing full well that as a country, “calm” and “love” were not words we would be using much in our immediate future.

Looking back, it would be an understatement to say that America had a tough year. Hurricanes drowned major cities with record-breaking floods, taking lives and livelihoods and leaving behind the mildew of disease and fear. From California to Oregon, wildfires ravaged vineyards, backyards and national parks, in mere seconds burning acres of old growth forest we may never see reborn. And in a remarkable movement of shortsighted greed, corporate appeasers started to steal the public lands that belong to us all.

In Las Vegas, a lone gunman cowardly slaughtered 59 people. In Hollywood, Harvey Weinstein’s, Kevin Spacey’s and Louis CK’s histories of sexual exploitation were unveiled. That long-standing massive culture of harassment against women came out in the open through the simple, cathartic hashtag: #MeToo. Throughout it all, beloved architects of the American soundtrack like Chuck Berry, Glen Campbell and Tom Petty, kept checking out of this world, leaving us with fewer voices to sing us through the tears.

One good friend noticed that all the crazy weather started right after the eclipse, calling it a clear warning sign that Mother Nature had some serious changes in store. Another said it was last year’s election that continued to lower the standard of, “No, you are,” debates on the web-o-spheres. While a Canadian friend simply said, “What is wrong with you people? You have it all.”

Which makes me think of how Agent Smith explained to Neo in The Matrix that humans rejected the original computer program for a perfect world. He said it was because, “as a species, human beings define their reality through suffering and misery. The perfect world was a dream that your primitive cerebrum kept trying to wake up from.”

On a random side note, Hugo Weaving, the actor who plays Agent Smith, also played Elrond in The Lord of the Rings, ranging in his skills from the embodiment of a computer virus to an Elvish lord. I find that wonderfully weird. Back on topic, the bad man did have a point. Many of us wake up every day looking for a reason to be mad at each other. For the “hate pimps” on the far left and right fringes of the media, this anger has fueled very lucrative careers. Careers they want to last.

Which is why as the planet warms and whole species progressively disappear, we choose instead to invent new causes like “The War on Christmas” (seriously?!) while debating if the true measure of patriotism boils down to whether someone stands or kneels when the American flag is unfurled on a football field. To be clear, I do stand for the national anthem before each Broncos game, in my home office, by myself, with my hand over my heart. It makes me feel good. Kind of in the same way Christmas makes me happy. Or way I feel each morning when I wake up next to my beautiful wife and dog.

But I also know there is real bigotry, oppression, and misguided hate toward minorities, women, and people who truly pursue the uniquely American “pursuit of Happiness” by embracing their own innate sense of sexuality or religion of soul. I know when someone says their right to love, their land, or their way of life is under attack, I should shut up and listen to why. Rather than telling them what I think, I need to understand what they feel.

As a country we need to find more time to listen to each other, and to celebrate the message of this season throughout the year. We need to understand that we are all on this planet together, earth mates who are part of a greater ecosystem of creatures, plants, and elements that need each other to survive and grow. If we could all just find one way to “give” back to our community, to nature, to protecting our heritage, and even to our democracy, we could collectively create a better world for us all to share. I wish every one of you the best. Peace on earth, and goodwill to all.