So, this is a pretty important week for me.
Not because I’ll be one step closer to forty by the time the week is through, but because a tale that’s been floating in my mind for many years is finally seeing the light of day.
This week marks the release of my first children’s picture book, The Little Lamp. It’s the story of a small table lamp who shines his love on a family for many years. But as their lives change, so does his, and as the years pass, he finds himself old, dusty, and eventually at the curb. And it’s with that he starts to re-think what these changes mean for him and what purpose he might still serve in life – as he has so much more love light to give.
Available in hardcover, paperback and e-book, it’s a story I hope offers some inspiration, some hope, and some, all pun intended, bright light to anyone of any age, going through a life change, doubt, and just wondering how they fit in. It’s beautifully illustrated by artist Ada Konewki, with whom I loved working with and hope to one day get the chance to do so again.
It also holds quite a lot of meaning because The Little Lamp has been with me since I was about nine years old, a doodle inspired by the small table lamp my parents bought for my bedroom, which then became crudely-drawn, xeroxed stories passed around to my elementary school friends.
And now, thirty years later, here he is, for anyone to enjoy.
It really means so very much.
“Talent + service to others = success and personal fulfillment.”
These were the words uttered by a friend as he brought to a close a passionate and inspiring eulogy about his dad.
His dad being a math teacher, my friend described it as “the most important equation” his dad ever taught.
The passing came unexpectedly, but came doing what he enjoyed most – helping others. In this case, helping at a local church. I had never met the man myself, but hearing my friend talk of him with such esteem, such reverence, I knew what a difference he made in the lives he touched.
As my friend spoke those words at the front of the service, I felt…I don’t know. Inspired. Motivated. Enlightened.
It was like those words went into the air, floated into my ear and sparked a fire inside my mind (and no doubt, many others as well that day).
We are all given something or somethings that we are good at, and to allow them to waste is the only true failure. Whether you succeed at something with flying colors or are don’t meet your goal but gave it all you’ve got, you’ve put your abilities to work.
I think of how easy it is for so many of us to become complacent in this life. To just accept things for how they are and lose the fire, the motivation that once pushed us to change our thoughts, our worlds. Heck, I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve sat down to write blog entries here, only to give up a few sentences in, filling up my account with dozens of unfinished blot posts.
This man inspired countless people in his time – be they the students he guided to find their true calling, the people he helped serving his country during the Korean War, or his own family, showing them, by example, what it means to believe in yourself, to have conviction, and to never put your abilities to waste, rather, to put them to use, making an impact, making a difference to others, making this world a little bit better.
It was a truly beautiful and touching tribute and my friend’s words echoed through my mind since we left the service, making me want to live a life that takes full advantage of any abilities I’ve been given, to make a difference (for the better) on the lives of the people I encounter, and most of all – to show my son, by example, just how happy life can be when you put it all together, stop focusing on the unimportant, the trivial, the superficial, and start focusing on what matters – making this world a little bit better.
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.
You have no doubt seen somewhere, be it television, newspapers, or the internet, the story of BatKid saving San Francisco-turned Gotham City from the likes of The Riddler and The Penguin this week.
If you haven’t yet heard about it, take a second and Google “BatKid” and read a few stories about it and come back.
No worries. I’ll wait. I’ll even have a cup of tea while you do so.
(((sip of tea. moment to ponder. another sip of tea.)))
Okay, you’re back. Pretty wild stuff, right?
There’s not much I can add to this. Writers, journalists, photographers have covered pretty much every angle of the day. All I want to say is that I can not, for the life of me, think of a comparable time when I’ve seen that many people gather together on a mission of goodwill and making a child feel like a hero. Not only that, but my Facebook newsfeed blew up that day with people sharing links to stories, photos, and just generally being excited that this kid’s wish to be Batman came true. It came true courtesy of the Make-a-Wish Foundation and many, many volunteers and supporters. That last word is key though – supporters. You can throw all the money in the world at something and it may not resonate with anyone.
What is it about this young boy, this dream come true to be a hero, that led so many people to take part, stand in the streets in support, or just generally get excited and invested in his heroics that day?
It gives me a little hope for the world. I’m often accused of being much more cynical as I age than I was a decade ago., but something with all of this just struck a chord. Maybe, just maybe, we’re not all the judgmental, polarized, cynical, hopeless lot that so many come off as day in and day out. Could it be that deep down we all want to feel the joy that comes with seeing a five-year old save the day? That inside, we want to have that sense of triumph that was felt that afternoon when young Miles stopped The Riddler and foiled a plot by the Penguin and was then given the key to the city?
I say yes. We do. But don’t let it stop there. Don’t bottle up those feelings now that the event is over and the news stories begin to die down. No, no! It’s like people who only open their hearts at Christmas.
Rip them open, my friends! Find that hope once again, believe in a better world. Why? Because what’s the alternative? Five year old Miles is a hero and gained the support of a city and a nation. Isn’t it time the rest of us started living every day with our hearts open and were heroes as well?