The thing about Nelson Mandela is that he was too peaceful for the average person to relate to

The world lost an icon today in Nelson Mandela. If there was ever a man who embodied peace, civility, honor and benevolence, it was him.

Mandela, who was 95, spent more than a quarter of his life imprisoned, after he publicly chastised and stood the against an oppressive, racially discriminating, white minority government in South Africa after World War II. He was convicted of treason and Nelson Mandelasentenced to life in prison.

Even after his release in 1990, he wasn’t even mad. That’s the amazing thing about him.

If somebody punished me for 27 minutes, I’d be pretty pissed off. Nelson Mandela lost 27 years of his life, and still forged a peaceful resolution with his captors after being freed. If you knew nothing about the man except that, then it’s all you needed to know to understand how much compassion he had.

He also served as the first black president of South Africa from 1994 to 1999, after he won resoundingly in the first fully democratic election in the country’s history, and immediately following the fall its 46-year system of apartheid.

No doubt, this is one of the most internationally significant deaths that many of us will experience in our lifetimes, and as far as iconic activists go, probably the most meaningful death since Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968. Because Mandela represented more than just a single man — he was a symbol. His name is synonymous with such ideals like “world peace,” “freedom,” and “race relations.” Just his presence in the world made it a better place.

And for those who wish they took more time to educate themselves about the man, need not worry — a conveniently timed biopic just hit theaters last week, with actor Idris Elba portraying the South African leader.

Over the next several days, you’ll hear a lot of people say how we all need to follow Mandela’s lead. How if we all had the discipline and forgiveness that he had, then the world would be a much better place.

But the thing is … there’s a reason why guys like Mandela, King, and let’s throw Gandhi in there too, are once-in-a-lifetime figures. Because nobody, nobody, can do what these guys did. None of us can spend 27 years in prison and not possess hatred for our captors. None of us can preach civil disobedience when they’re being racially discriminated against and physically assaulted day after day. And none of will ever go on an extended hunger strike to promote religious harmony.

Most of Americans can’t even go on a five-hour hunger strike … from McDonald’s.

And I think that’s a problem. How can we relate to these guys? They were too good. Too impassioned. Too idealistic. And that’s why they changed the world, and the rest of us will not.

Mandela’s life is an unbelievable one. It’s something you’d expect to hear about in a movie, and not firsthand from someone who actually lived it.

So maybe instead of trying to urge others to be the next Mandela, we should instead spend time educating others — and ourselves — about the life lessons he instilled. About what he stood for. Because those are things we can relate to. And at the base of it, it’s pretty simple — love, unity, forgiveness.

If we could personify those things, then I think that’s something Nelson would be happy with.

Has anybody else realized how illogical it is to put a several-feet tall tree in your living quarters?

One of the most appealing aspects of Christmastime is the traditions that come with it.

It’s not just opening presents on Dec. 25. It’s also about illuminating your house with Christmas lights, so it’s the brightest one on your block. It’s about hanging your own customized stocking on the fireplace. And it’s most certainly about searching for that one, perfect tree so that you can coil it to the top of your car, decorate it, and then — SONY DSC

Wait, what?

You put that thing dirty, monstrous thing in your home? Seriously?

Has any one ever thought about the actual dynamic of having a real-life tree in your living room? Think about it in terms of an architectural blueprint. You have your couch, television set, sofa, you probably have some stupid ottoman somewhere in there … and then there’s a tree.

In December, the homes of Catholic families basically resemble an illustration from Where the Wild Things Are. The only things missing are vines and a talking beast.

But anyway, I know that draping ornaments, lights and candy canes onto the tree is arguably the most enjoyable part of the holiday. I’m not trying to downplay that. Some of my favorite childhood memories revolve around sitting around that tree and decorating it with my family.

And lighting it up for the first time to see the finished product after hours of work is truly one of life’s precious moments. I really don’t even mean that sarcastically.

Owning your own Christmas tree has also become so common that it’s gotten to the point where, if you are Catholic and you don’t have one, people think there is something wrong with you.

But I’m just wondering if anybody else, besides me, has ever taken a step back, and said, “Why do we go through all of the trouble to put a goddamn tree inside of our homes?”

Firstly, they’re heavy. Transporting it from the location of purchase to your home is no picnic. In fact, I’m sure that one of every five people injure themselves in some way during this process.

WTWTASecondly — the mess. Don’t even bother vacuuming, because every single day there is going to be a fresh batch of pine needles littering your floor.

And if you have a cat or a dog — forget it. That tree is going down at some point. It’s not a question of if, but when.

If aliens ever invaded Earth and it happened to be the month of December, I’m certain they’d jettison back into their spaceships moments after they enter people’s homes, because seeing living trees inside would convince them that we are a crazy, unstable species.

“They’ve got trees, man. Actual trees!” That’s what one alien would say to the other, while hunched in a ball in the corner of the spaceship as they return to their home planet called Glutar.

But those aliens would be missing out. Because had they stayed just a little longer, they’d have witnessed the tree lit up in all of its glory, a family of four spread about comfortably on sofa chairs while watching a movie and eating milk and cookies, complete with a little kitten curdled up on the carpet.

And then they’d understand why we have Christmas trees in our homes.

Is it just me or does Christmas shit on Hanukkah more and more every year?

Christmas and Hanukkah share an interesting dynamic. They’re both typically in December. They both involve the exchanging of gifts. And they both have spawned in interfaith households to form the word, “Christmakkah.”

But the big difference is that only one of them is really a major holiday.

Christmas is widely accepted by Catholics to be among the biggest annual celebration of their faith. It’s not quite as important religiously as Rockefeller xmasEaster, but since the two holidays are so far apart in the calendar, they’re basically considered “1A” and “1B.”

Hanukkah, meanwhile, has nothing on Judaism’s two holiest days: Rosh Hoshanah and Yom Kippur. Hanukkah is different enough to have its own unique appeal, but, it’s less than three months after those two holidays, and therefore, it’s a little anticlimactic by the time it rolls around.

That’s the main reason, I think, why Christmas trumps Hanukkah each year in pretty much all facets: music, movies, decorations, pop culture, anticipation, Facebook chatter, you name it.

I mean, come on — there’s no giant menorah in Rockefeller Center, is there?

So while Christmas is always celebrated to the max each year, observers of Hanukkah tend to be a little more subdued, calm and usually downplay the holiday. In fact, I feel it becomes downplayed more and more each year.

Heck, I’ll take it one step further. I don’t even think Jews even try to promote Hanukkah anymore. They’ve just given up. And that was never more evident this year, when Hanukkah arrived early. It started so early that it’s already over on Thursday. In other words, it’s basically going to end before the “holiday season” even begins.

Hanukkah never had a chance this year. It overlapped with not only Thanksgiving, but consumer “holidays” like Black Friday and Cyber Monday. When December rolled around, and people were finally ready to embrace the religious holidays — it was already half over.

Christmas is essentially dominating the entire month of December 2013. In the past, when people talked about holidays that occur this time of the year, they had to remind themselves to include Hanukkah, in order to be politically correct. This year, they didn’t even have to do that.

Even ‘N Sync, in the lead single — called “Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays” — off their 1998 Christmas album, threw in a line that lazily and backhandedly incorporated Hanukkah. It’s like the band members recorded the song, and at the last second, were like, “Oh shit, we have Jewish fans too. Eh, screw it, let’s just throw in a ‘Happy holidays’ and call it a day.”

This year, we don’t even have to pretend. And the question becomes — will it ever recover?

Already the second-tier, ugly stepchild of the December holidays, I think it’s fair to wonder if people will officially become apathetic towards it moving forward, especially following its massive insignificance this year.

It’s like when the National Hockey League — already the most unpopular of the four major sports — experienced a lockout and was forced to cancel it’s entire 2004-2005 season. It lost major sponsorship, television programming, and most importantly — its worldwide appeal. It took several years for it to recover, and it’s debatable if it even really has.

The same goes for Hanukkah. The holiday essentially had its own “lockout” this year. Except it’s even worse, because it still happened.

Either way, Catholics everywhere can enjoy the monopoly they have on December, and with Christmas a mere three weeks away, it’s safe to finally become giddy. All those — like me — who intentionally avoided gingerbread or peppermint lattes, as well as Christmas music and movies, throughout the month of November out of principle, can finally embrace it.

Because it’s Christmastime.

And I really hope the kind people who selected me to go on a Birthright trip to Israel in February do not ever see this post.

Paul Walker’s death proves that if you live a squeaky clean, philanthropic, family-oriented life … you will be forgotten soon

Hollywood, movie fans and the rest of the world alike were startled to learn of Paul Walker’s death on Saturday night. Amazingly, TMZ actually broke the news first, but, given that gossip site’s reputation, many of Walker’s fans held out hope that the website was chasing a false lead in an effort to break a major story.

Paul WalkerThey were disappointed.

Walker, 40, is survived by one daughter. His legacy will be known for starring in the Fast and the Furious film franchise, which fulfilled many people’s unquenchable desire for fast cars, attractive women and Vin Diesel.

What’s unfortunate for him, though, is how his death will be labeled as “ironic.” The Fast films involve fast-paced, often reckless driving, and the fact that he died in a car accident will always lead to a connection between the two. Unfortunately, that should not be the case, as Walker was not the one who was driving. Rather, Walker’s friend and financial adviser, Roger Rodas — who also died — was the driver. But that will probably be overlooked.

When someone dies at a relatively young age, it’s common to assess their life’s work, as a source of perspective for what they contributed during their time on Earth. As a movie star, we have Walker’s filmography to look at. And when I do that, the first thing that comes to mind is that he was in a lot of movies. And quality movies, at that.

Obviously, there is the Fast movies, which you either loved or hated. For me, they personally were not my cup of tea. I can appreciate an action flick, but I prefer movies that make me think a little bit.

But regardless, Walker also was in Pleasantville, Varsity Blues, She’s All That, The Skulls, Joy Ride and Eight Below, all of which had their own positive qualities. That’s a nice little track record. Did he ever come anywhere near performing in a serious, Oscar-worthy dramatic role? No. But you still can’t disregard his body of work.

What has resonated most to me about Walker since I heard the news, however, is not how much I am going to miss his movies. But — and I am solely basing this on what I’ve read, in articles and the outpouring of tweets that have from come from other actors and Phillippe Tweetactresses — by all accounts, he was an authentic person, a good father, and someone who was extremely well-liked in the industry.

He never was involved in a controversy, never someone who was linked to drug or alcohol use, and even had his own charity. In other words — an actual role model. Also, here’s a heartbreaking photo of Tyrese crying at his memorial.

It’s sad that it often takes death to realize somebody’s positive impact in the world, but at least it also leaves us with a positive memory.

And I mean no disrespect to other people who died prematurely, like, for instance, Cory Montieth. But people talked about him for months. He was immortalized as the tragic high school drop out who couldn’t overcome his demons.

Paul Walker, meanwhile, brought a lot of good to this world, inspired others, and it pains me to say that he will probably be forgotten about soon, if not already. For the sake of humanity, I hope I’m wrong.

See ya later, Paul.