For all my beautiful friends, known and unknown to me:
Writing at the darkest time of year, when we string lights and let candles flicker as we await the rebirth of the Sun, I want you to remember that it truly is a wonderful, glorious, miraculous life.
And while other holiday films may delight us with nostalgia, or portraits of crazy families still managing to enjoy their particular life, I love It’s a Wonderful Life (Frank Capra, 1947).
A dark film, for a dark season, that eventually turns its face again to the light. It’s a Wonderful Life presents us with a portrait of a family man who sees his life as a failure, is deeply in debt, and attempts suicide on Christmas Eve. But it’s not that George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) actually wants to die. He specifically wishes to have never been born. And his wish is granted.
Having never been born, George Bailey is free to see how life would have proceeded without him. The thousands of little links in the chain of his existence are broken. He was not alive to save his brother’s life, to keep a grieving pharmacist from accidentally poisoning someone, to marry his wife, to fix his dream home as well as build the dream homes of the people of his hometown of Bedford Falls.
Beyond seeing how connected and important his life was to so many, he also realizes that he has no memories, no experience of life, no friends, no family, no connections, no love. And this is when he chooses to live again.
I want you to think about what George Bailey knows when he makes his decision to return to his life. Nothing has changed. There are Zuzu’s petals in his pocket, he is still broken by debt, and yet he chose to have back his experiences, his connections, his friends, family and love.
And though the town pulls together to help erase his debt that night, George did not know that would happen when he chose life. He wanted to kiss his wife and children, run through the streets shouting “Merry Christmas” to all, even old man Potter.
None of us know our future. Whether trouble, pain, or loss will hit us on any particular day, but we go on anyway because the alternative is nothingness.
Imagine never experiencing life. Not simply seeing the stars, or falling in love, or sunsets after a fine day, but never knowing loss, the pain of unrequited love. Life is all of these things, the painful, the glorious, the unjust, the small triumphs, the love and loss. And living with the constant uncertainty of it all.
And yet we choose this everyday. In a dark, cold, and lonely Universe, somehow you were born. A naked ape made from the elements of the Earth, kin to all you see in a very real way. The only difference is that, having life, you get to reflect on the immense miracle of it all. And it is never too late to choose to live in love and awe.
This season, count your riches in the amount of love you give, the joy you bring, and be open to this glorious, uncertain, and wonderful life. May peace and love fill all of your days, and may you safely rest in the arms of love, no matter what this life brings.
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