“Whatever you do, just don’t lose heart.
Keep on pushing back the dark.”
One of our family’s Christmas traditions is watching It’s a Wonderful Life. This black and white film from 1946 tells the tale of George Bailey, a man down on his luck who wishes he had never been born and then, with the help of an angel, gets the opportunity to experience how different things would have been had he received his wish. Every time I watch the movie, it brings me joy and every time, something new stands out. This time I was struck by the instant change in George at the turning point of the movie. When he initially goes to the bridge in utter despair to end it all, even the smallest things bothered him–the finial on the stair banister, the drafty old house. Even the things he loved:
“Why do we have to have all these kids anyway?”
Then the turning point. The realization that he is here, alive, with the ability to fill his lungs with oxygen and open his eyes to the goodness in the world. And to have his loved ones recognize him. One of the most disturbing things to George when he was experiencing the world without himself was when people–most of all his wife Mary (who wasn’t his wife in the world where he didn’t exist because he didn’t exist)–when Mary didn’t recognize George, we the audience could tell it broke his heart. That was the final straw. He realizes just how blessed he is and when he decides he wants to live again, he instantly comes to life. His whole demeanor changes. The movie seems to speed up. Like someone hit the fast forward button. Where even the smallest things irritated him prior to his epiphany, now even the tiniest blessings bless him. He finds his baby girl Zuzu’s petals in his pocket and they elate him. He hugs his kids and wife Mary so tightly, kisses them. Even the non-blessings are welcome. His bad ear and bloody lip are cause for celebration.
Don’t you wish it were like that in real life? That we could snap out of the doldrums quickly and appreciate the gift of the present–the now?
Maybe the secret is to do it backwards. Maybe, as Ann Voskamp says in 1,000 Gifts:
“Thanksgiving precedes the miracle.”
Find one light in the darkness, one star in the dark night of the soul that could illuminate the rest of the darkness. If instant joy eludes us, maybe we need to take the first step. We can start by naming one thing we even like. Reach deep into that pocket and pull out those petals. Feel the softness, drink in the vibrant color.
It’s contagious, you know.
It will spread. An attitude of gratitude tends to build on itself. And we don’t have to wait for an angel to show up in order to have our own epiphany.
We don’t have to have a George Bailey experience.
We can more easily have a Grinch experience.
Remember when the Grinch hears the Whos sing “Welcome Christmas”?
Fah who For-aze
Dah who dor-aze
Come this way!
He paused his Grinching–just for a moment–and listened. The listening opened his heart just a bit, but that bit was enough for joy to seep in, take root, and expand to break that heart of stone and transform it into a heart of flesh.
Let’s do that. . . Let’s listen to the song. . . Let’s reach in and find those petals in our pockets.
Let’s pick up the pen and commit a courageous act of defiance against the dark.
Let’s name the gifts.