One of my favorite parts of Christmas, aside from amusing my wife and children with my ill-advised attempts to gift wrap presents, is watching "It's A Wonderful Life". I've watched it on television with commercial breaks built around celebrities recounting when they first saw it (one year I watched Garth Brooks talk about the first time he saw it and realized I had NO idea who he was, despite his success in selling records).
It's on tonight and I'll watch it, even though we have it on DVD and I could watch it at anytime, along with the original "Miracle on 34th Street". Truth be told, I have no idea on how to work the DVD, or the timer on the thermostat or the control for anything other than the popcorn setting on the microwave or most of the cell phone I own (it has a Blackberry in it and checks my commercial email accounts and vibrates to let me know I have e-mail. Scares the bejabbers out of me.).
I was surprised to read when the movie was first released it was NOT hailed as a classic or celebrated for its art, but was seen more as both a commercial and artistic failure. In the decades that have passed, as more of us have had an opportunity to look at its larger message and ponder the implications of the road not taken, the appeal of the movie has, I think, grown.
When you examine your own life and think of all the choices you've made that have, in sum, resulted in your being here to read this (or to shake your head in dismay and double-click on to something else), that total number is (or should be) overwhelming.
I arrived here because we won the Cold War and NATO cut the overhead. I had lived in Germany since 1976 and had a wife and two children. We had a gemutlich existence in the heart of a moderate sized German city. Our two children were old enough to realize Dad's German wasn't as good as theirs (actually it was about as good as my daughter, Michelle's, if you forgot that I was in my late thirties and she wasn't quite four). And then the Evil Empire held a Going Out of Business Sale and we thought the Age of Aquarius had dawned. Turns out it hadn't and it still hasn't, but that doesn't mean someday it won't get here-just not today.
There were hundreds and thousands of decisions that had to be made (or not made) in order for us to reside in The Rose of Norwich. I cannot imagine how my life has been enriched by the neighbors alongside of whom I've lived, by the people I've worked with on a school building and technology committee, the baseball stadium authority, a charter review commission and on the ethics review committee (not all at the same time, but close to it!). I'd hope I've added something to their lives but know better. I am humbled and grateful for what they have shared with me and realize I am who I am because of every person I have ever met on the way to where I am now.
For some, knowing me has been more of trial and error (emphasis on the latter) than either of us wish to admit. For others, a little contact goes a long way and absence makes the heart grow fonder (and so they are waiting for me to leave so they can like me). I lack the grace and style of Jimmy Stewart's George Bailey, though I've often attempted to lasso the moon for the love of my life. I'm not sure I could stand up to Potter the way George did and that whole 'angel gets his wings' thing gets me confused. The first Clarence I knew of growing up was a cross-eyed lion, so child of the video age that I am, the programs sometimes get edited together and the meanings get diffused.
As 2007 begins its final week--this time next week is New Year's Eve, I find myself looking forward to 2008 with hope because of what we have endured, persevered and triumphed over in 2007 and hope it allows you and yours a moment of pause in the next few days to look at where you are and how you got here and to perhaps concede, trials and tribulations to the contrary, indeed, "It's A Wonderful Life."