When Meg and I started out, we had an artificial tree. It was nothing elaborate – just something simple and nice that she picked up on sale one Black Friday that worked fine for our little two-person Christmases.
Little by little, our household grew – one cat, two cats, three cats, and finally one tiny human, and that poor little tree didn’t last too long against the combined might of three felines and a baby. So, a few years ago, we started getting real trees for Christmas.
With it came the adventure and joy of having the little guy bundled up, walking with us among rows of trees, looking for just the right one for our little home. But that’s not to say it didn’t come without its own challenges, and this year certainly had plenty.
The plan was simple – while the little guy takes his nap, mom and dad will put up the tree. Easy, simple, no problem.
Easier said than done.
We got the tree inside and into the designated area with little difficulty, but getting it to stand up in the tree stand was a completely different story. In it would go, screws tightened, let go and…down it went in an instant.
Hmmm. Maybe the screws/fasteners just hit a bad spot.
Spin it around, try the screws in new spots and give it a whirl. Let go and…down it went again.
This went on for about 45 minutes as we each tried our best to figure out just how to get this tree to stop falling down on us, even though it was screwed into the stand. Meanwhile, the sounds from upstairs indicated the little guy had no intention of going to sleep that afternoon and was not in a happy mood.
Finally, in a last-ditch effort for any type of improvement, Meg suggested getting a small piece of wood from the garage. I keep odds and end pieces in there leftover from various projects around the house. Upon finding one small enough to fit inside the base, I brought it inside and she wedged it in the base, giving the tree just the support it needed to finally, thankfully, stand up straight.
With that, we were okay to bring the little guy downstairs (free of a falling-tree zone) and continue decorating with his occasional assistance. Upon our tree was a veritable memory book of our lives so far, from the Macy’s Elf Meg and I picked up on one of our several pre-parenthood trips to New York City, to the Scrooge McDuck as Ebeneezer Scrooge ornament that reminds me of my childhood love of the character, one that seems to have, inadvertently been picked up by our son.
Now, several weeks later, it’s all done.
This past weekend, it all got packed up. The tree out at the curb, ready to be re-purposed by our municipality, the gifts that sat under it now put away, as our the stockings and decorations that helped bring the season to life.
We didn’t get a white Christmas this year, it was too warm.
At times I thought it didn’t feel like the holiday season with the weather being the way it was, but as we tucked away all those decorations for another year, I realized that despite what was happening outside – inside our little home, stockings, vintage Santa postcards, and a beautiful Douglass Fir in front of a television playing classics we love (From White Christmas to the Bishop’s Wife, Mickey’s Christmas Carol to It’s a Wonderful Life), the season was in full swing in our home, and we had total control over that.
If you have yet to see this movie, and you want to believe that human beings can be good, decent people, please do so. Don’t bother with made-for-tv versions or theatrical remakes years later. Go for the real deal. Edmund Gwenn, Maureen O’Hara, John Payne and Natalie Wood.
If you’re unfamiliar, I’ll give you the gist – a white-bearded, jovial man who happens to be in the right place at the right time, is a last-minute replacement for a drunken Santa at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. He’s such a hit, he’s hired to be the department store Santa. So ‘goodwilled’ is he, that when Macy’s doesn’t have the toys kids are looking for, he sends them to rival department stores. The head of Macy’s loves it and instructs all employees to recommend other stores that carry products they’re out of. It’s the goodwill gesture and PR event of the century. Other stores jump on board and commercialism seems to be thrown out the window. Until a grumpy store psychiatrist doesn’t care for Kris Kringle and pushes to have him committed on the grounds that if he claims to be Santa, he must be insane.
A hearing and then a trial ensues, where a plucky young lawyer sets out to prove the impossible, that the man in court is in fact, the one and only Santa Claus. He does so too, in a wonderful, spectacular way.
The court wants proof from a ‘recognized authority’ that this man is Santa? Well, leave it to a disgruntled postal employee to set the wheels in motion. The Santa trial is making headlines and with lots of letters to Santa needing somewhere to go, the postal service has them all delivered to the NYC-based courthouse where the trial is being held.
The U.S. Postal Service – a recognized government entity, therefore acknowledges (as it is a crime to willfully misdirect mail) that the man in the courtroom receiving those letters is Santa Claus. How can the county court disagree with that?
It’s a spectacular and charming scene and every single time it happens, every time the case is dismissed, and young, cynical little Susan believes, it just give me reason not only to believe in the spirit of old St. Nick, but in how good people can be.
It’s the type of movie I can’t wait to show my son one day. I look forward to watching each year, and sometimes, a few times during the year. Not because of Christmas (in fact, it was originally released to theaters in the summer!), but because it’s about hope, about believing.
As lawyer Fred Gailey says in the film of Kris Kringle: “Faith is believing when common sense tells you not to. Don’t you see? It’s not just Kris that’s on trial, it’s everything he stands for. It’s kindness and joy and love and all the other intangibles.”
Forget the presents, forget church and religion. For me, that is what the entire season is about – believing in the goodness of people, believing and hoping for a better world, where people treat and help each other all year-long like they show they can during those few weeks of the holidays.
As Kris Kringle himself says: “Oh, Christmas isn’t just a day, it’s a frame of mind… and that’s what’s been changing. That’s why I’m glad I’m here, maybe I can do something about it.”
I’m a sentimental sap, I know.
But hey, it keeps me believing. And I’m 33.
With a five month old now added to the mix, I admit that our movie viewing habits have drastically reduced, or have become divided into segments. After all, any time we get where he is napping is usually spent taking care of more pressing matters around the house rather than watching the boob tube.
Somehow, whether it was his being infatuated with his mother’s face, or the ceiling fan up above, my little monkey was pretty calm while the wife and I took in all the Jimmy Stewart-Donna Reed goodness.
You don’t need me to say that it still holds up to this day – the story of the average joe who’s sacrificed so much of his dreams to help out those around him, only to fall knee deep into it himself and hit rock bottom and wish he were never born.
When I watched it this year, though, something was slightly different. Perhaps it was the frustration George Bailey felt at home with the “drafty old house” or the constant noise of the kids after an absolute day from hell. Suddenly, I was not only enjoying this film as I have for years, I was suddenly relating to it.
We all have the things we wanted to do with out lives, and in George’s case, it was seeing the world and living a life of adventure. He gave it up, though, time and again – when his father passed and he had to take over the Building and Loan, when he fell in love with Mary and they bought that old, run-down Victorian house and decided to fix it up, when he realized that the ever flirtatious Violet was not interested in his wacky dreams, or when he stayed at the Building and Loan so that his brother, Harry, could have the life and dreams HE wanted.
In the end, of course, that’s what brings all those friends and acquaintances rallying around George when he needs it, but it took some getting there for George to realize how good he had it when the chips were down.
Earlier this month, I came across this great introspective article over at “The Art of Manliness,” a phenomenal website definitely worth subscribing to. From teaching/reminding useful skills that often get lost in our fast-paced, technological society, to an appreciation for the things of the past, this website is really something.
Anyway, the article can be found right here: http://artofmanliness.com/2012/12/03/the-george-bailey-technique/
What it does is propose the exercise of doing a “George Bailey” on your own life. Sit down, and write out what your life would be like without a particular person, place or event in your life that brings you happiness.
It may seem like a simple thing to do, but once you start delving in to the paths that might not have crossed, you can hit upon some dark places in your mind, my friend. At times, it can be downright scary.
I think of just some of the seemingly random events that have led me to where I am today.
- “What if I never took that phone call asking if I was interested in a job at my current workplace?”
- “What if I never took that job?”
- “What if I never went out for drinks that time and made some new friends?”
- “What if I hadn’t, through those friends, found out about a play at a local theatre needing an extra actor or two and been coerced into trying out?”
- “What if I hadn’t been at this new job that had the flexibility to be in a play?”
- “What if I hadn’t agreed to go back months later and tryout again?”
You get my point. I could go on forever, and that’s just for one particular event in my life – meeting my wife. If those particular sequences of events had not taken place, I would never have met the woman I’m married to today. We would never have become friends, later begun dating, and eventually gotten married. The three cherished cats that have become like our first children, would never have been rescued, and been left to fates I don’t even dare think about without getting upset. And we would have, of course, never had our newborn son, the little man whose mere smirk or smile is enough to make me want to race home each and every day to see.
What I’m saying is that, while watching George Bailey torture himself to discover why he’s important, I realized that we all have those kind of days. Those days when it seems like we’re taking the falls for the absent-minded Uncle Billies in our lives, when our finances seem in trouble or drained, when the kids just won’t give you a moment to yourself, and when the Mr. Potters of the world just won’t let up and give us a break, trying to crush our spirits.
There’s countless times where I’ve been frustrated with work, or a co-worker, or a lack of space or function in our old house, or a surprise bill in the mail. “If we only had more money, if we only had different careers, if we only had a bigger, better home…”
It’s so easy to think about the obstacles we come across, what we don’t have, or to think the grass would be greener someplace or someway else. However, when we realize what we have an how such chance moments in life led us to it, how easily that could have all slipped by if we had made a different decision, it really puts things in perspective.
It’s easy to let the world crash down around us when this happens, to wonder “what if.” But instead of wanting to throw ourselves off our personal Bedford Falls bridge, maybe we need to listen to that little Clarence Oddbody (AS2 – ‘Angel, Second Class’) in the back of our minds and remember what it is that we have around us in our lives.
If we did that more often, we might all see that life isn’t so bad and those obstacles don’t outweigh what we have, who we have, and what lives we have touched.
We might just see that it really is a Wonderful Life.