Sunday, December 23, 2018

My last Christmas.

I have to be in the mood to write Christmas cards. My wife, Ellen, and I send a pile every year. To set the tone, I usually channel surf to find a cinematic classic to watch as "background music." Last  Sunday night, I glimpsed several gauzy scenes from two early film versions of Charles Dicken's novel, "A Christmas Carol." Then we settled on director, Frank Capra's, "It's a Wonderful Life."

Making my way down the list of family and friends, I couldn't help but pause a little longer at those who had lost loved ones in the last year or so. Ellen sat across from me sticking return address labels to the envelopes. Only four years ago at this time, she was just getting started on a battle with breast cancer. She survived, while two of our friends succumbed to the vicious disease. There are a growing number of widows and widowers on our Christmas list. And this year, I had to write a card to friends  who tragically lost their son two days before his college graduation. Sadly, we also have one less family card to send in 2018. Ellen's brother, Rick, died on St. Patrick's Day this year. The Christmas movie on the screen suddenly felt poignant.

Like Dicken's Ebenezer Scrooge character, George Bailey, played by the legendary Jimmy Stewart,  rediscovers the meaning of his "Wonderful Life" by confronting his mortality. Similarly, Scrooge meets three Christmas spirits in one night, including one grim spook who provides a funereal preview complete with tombstone and gravesite.

Likewise, a guardian angel steps down from heaven and dives into Bedford Falls and George Bailey's nightmare. The despondent Bailey is considering suicide because of an accidental financial crisis that threatens his reputation and freedom. Even then, the unselfish hero plunges into an icy river to save a stranger, who turns out to be his own angel, whom he thinks is drowning.  It's then that "Clarence," the simple-minded celestial being, has a winter brainstorm. Miraculously, he shows George what his community would have become had he never been born. Suddenly, the small town savings and loan officer understands everything. He prays for more time in this world. Perhaps another decade of self-sacrifice and service to neighbors who are struggling to get out of the clutches of their evil landlord in Pottersville.

Death is a powerful teacher, especially at Christmastime.

Facing their own mortality helped Scrooge and Bailey discover the truth about life. That it is temporary and yet eternal. If we choose to cling to this world we die, buried under a mountain of selfishness. If we choose to love so much we give up our lives for the good of others, we live forever.

That is the meaning of Christmas. An unconditional, vast love becomes flesh. Only to embrace a courageous death so we can live forever.

This must be why I choke up every time I watch the closing scenes of these classics from Dicken's and Capra. I can't help but see God in the characters who are redeemed by love. It puts me in the mood to write to our cherished family and friends. And reminds me, I'm running out of time with them here. So, I need to love everyone I can. Like this is my last Christmas.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Right place. Wrong time.

In America's most dangerous communities, one step recommended for at-risk youth is to avoid social media. For example, some have been shot and even killed for their Facebook posts. Seems it's just as important to carefully choose your virtual friends as those you run with in the real world. When soldiers  die or suffer wounds because they're accidentally shot by one of their brothers, we call it "friendly fire."

Then there are those gunned down due to mistaken identify. The tragic loss of life occurs because a careless attacker fired senselessly. Some say the death toll would be much higher if young shooters were better marksmen.

The stories of random gunfire are all too common on U.S. streets and we cluck our tongues at the obvious insanity. Yet, truth be told, Americans have long been dodging long-distance assaults.

I remember the true story of labor leader, Walter P. Reuther, who in 1948 survived a shotgun blast in his own home. He was in his kitchen with his wife, when pellets burst through the window. Four lodged in his arm, one in his chest. Other stories I've heard involved angry business owners who shot up the competition's shop or a union hall because they felt unfairly targeted. The purpose was only to send a message, they allegedly said. But what if someone had been in the right place at the wrong time?

Whether the assault is a volley of commentary via electronic bursts in cyberspace or rounds fired from many feet away, the distance between attacker and the attacked allows us to shoot aimlessly.

We can debate the effectiveness of gun control in the effort to reduce violence. But without a change in our trigger-happy, vindictive natures, we will continue to count the dead and wounded, without knowing the lives that we've lost.