Monday, December 24, 2007

It's a Life... Wonderful and Wide

It's somewhat of a tradition in my family that we watch "It's a Wonderful Life" on Christmas Eve. Sometimes it's the day before and sometimes it's on Christmas Day itself. The exact time doesn't really matter, so long as we all get together, pile on the couches, and watch.

Tonight was no exception. With a brand new DVD-copy, lovingly restored and cleaned, it looked the best I've ever seen it. Details I had never noticed were in practically every scene. And when it got to the end, I cried, as usual.

That's no great achievement nowadays. I'm extremely sentimental and anything from a old movie to a really nostalgic commercial for soap can get me to shed at least a few tears. I don't know what emotion those tears express; all the usual ones associated with tears (sadness, pain, happiness, empathy) don't really seem to apply.

I seem to end up with the idea that I'm crying because people often cry in such situations. Which is a weird thing to think, I tell you what.

It's Christmas time again. Tomorrow morning, after we all get up, we'll head down to breakfast and spread out in front of the Christmas tree. The presents will go round and round. A good time will be had by all. For that period of time, there is nothing else in the world that's important. It doesn't matter who's got jobs or who needs to get their oil changed, or who scratched the table in August putting down a metal basket. All that matters is the family, together.

I remember a few years ago trying to explain what Christmas was like to the fine lady I was dating. We each thought Christmas was important, but for very different reasons. And no matter how hard we tried, we didn't seem to be able to put together a coherent package to show to the other person and say "this is what Christmas means to me."

It was frustrating to me, because Christmas was important. It is important. In a way, it represents all that's good about life. I'm sure it seems corny to distill it down to a sentence right out of guileless film from the 50's, but there's no better way. The feeling at Christmas is like being able to place all that's good about life and hold it in your hands. That glowing ball that fits in between two palms is the core of what life is about.

I don't mean to imply that Christmas itself is the special thing, because it isn't. Though it seems utilitarian to say it, Christmas is really just a means to an end. A reason to allow people to gather round the fire, reconnecting with old friends and family.

So much of today is sharp and cynical. The humor is pointed, people make fun of each other constantly, and we all thicken our skins. We all shrug on heavy coats to dull the impact of other people's barbs, all the while jabbing each other. We all try to score the hits first, to take the pain away from all that follows. Protected by insincerity, we feel free to advance opinions that are not our own, using them like straw men to be picked apart. Even worse, we hide our own true comments in a sleeve of sarcasm, pretending as though they're false, if only to prevent our own thoughts from being ridiculed.

The Christmas holidays, to me, are a time of the year when all that insincerity burns off like fog. If I feel and act generously, then it doesn't matter WHO knows it, or how much they kid or joke about it. It doesn't matter because the honesty and truthfulness carries the day, making it (for the length of a passing season) THE way to behave. Making it THE cardinal virtue.

It's easy to dismiss my thoughts as crazy-eyed idealism, or as the oblivious longings of someone hopelessly out of touch. I can certainly step outside myself and see the valid point. But I happen to believe that it's important to believe in the fiction (if it even IS a fiction), even for the length of a single day. It's our actions that shape us and how we behave towards our loved ones is a large part of how we treat the world.

It might be called a fiction or hopeless dream. I think, though, that for the length of time that the spirit endures, it moves us each in the best direction.

Merry Christmas to all.

Peace and honor be upon your houses and your names.

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