December, 2012

Resolving to Live a Wonderful Life

Editorial Comments

by Deborah Steele Hazen

Like millions of people, when I have a couple of hours to relax during the holiday season I love to watch classic movies.

With some major exceptions, I am not a big fan of much of what Hollywood has produced during the past couple of decades, but at their best, motion pictures are an art form that can elevate the human soul.

“A Christmas Story” delights me with its humor and its reminders of my childhood.

The 1947 version of “Miracle on 34th Street” reassures me that I am correct in believing in Santa Claus. (And don’t try to convince me otherwise!)

“The Bishop’s Wife” is both entertaining and heart-warming.

I enjoy the music and pageantry of “White Christmas.” It’s hard to beat Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney.

But my favorite Christmas movies remind me of what is really important in life. They compliment the gifts and the lessons of the first Christmas.

“It is required of every man that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellow men, and travel far and wide, and if that spirit goes not forth in life, it is condemned to do so after death. It is doomed to wander through the world, and witness what it cannot share, but might have shared and turned to happiness…My spirit never walked beyond our counting house. In life, my spirit never roved beyond the narrow limits of our money changing hole… Business! Mankind was my business! The common welfare was my business. Charity, mercy, forbearance and benevolence were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business…For me it is too late, but I have come for your sake, Ebenezer…”

So mourns and warns the ghost of Jacob Marley when it visits the loveless chamber of his former partner Ebenezer Scrooge on a Victorian era Christmas Eve.

Charles Dickens’ classic story “A Christmas Carol” has been made into movies at least four times, plus several other adaptations that wander farther from the original text.

I like the 1938 version with Reginald Owen as Scrooge, but my favorite film rendition of “A Christmas Carol” – partially because of a very personal reason – is the 1984 production starring George C. Scott, who looks remarkably like my father, Gail Steele.

This is the 14th Christmas since my father died. Unlike Jacob Marley or Ebenezer Scrooge (before his transformational Christmas Eve), my father did make the welfare of mankind, and especially this community, his business. There is no doubt that he is where good souls spend eternity.

But it is nice to see that face and those expressions so like my father’s on the television screen, as I am reminded of the lessons taught by “A Christmas Carol.”

In everything but physical appearance, my father was much more like George Bailey, the self-sacrificing hero of what many people agree is the best holiday movie ever – Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

George Bailey, played convincingly by James Stewart,  spends his life in his unprofitable family business, which nonetheless does good things for the people of his community. George is torn between continuing that good work, and being frustrated at his lack of financial success and the freedom to pursue his talents beyond the confines of Bailey Bros. Building and Loan. But despite his frustrations, George consistently does the right thing for the right reasons.

One Christmas Eve, because of the bumbling of his Uncle Billy and the machinations of the evil Mr. Potter, George faces financial ruin and criminal charges. He is contemplating suicide, when God answers his prayers in the form of the inept angel Clarence who shows George what the lives of his loved ones and the community would have been like without him.

George Bailey realizes, that despite its financial disappointments and discouragements, his life is wonderful. His friends and family have realized this all along, and while George is learning his lessons from Clarence, they have rallied to raise the money that will save George’s business and reputation. He is, they all agree, “the richest man in town,” in all the ways that count, and Clarence leaves him with the message that “no man is a failure who has friends.”

There is much sadness and strife in our world, but we can make our lives wonderful if we remember what real wealth and real happiness is all about.

As the reborn Ebenezer Scrooge says at the end of his night of redemption. “I will honor Christmas in my heart and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the past, the present and the future. The spirits of all three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach.”

My new year’s resolution is to honor Christmas in my heart and try to keep it all the year; and to remember – even when I’m discouraged and frustrated – that I have a wonderful life.

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