In 1943 a man named Philip Van Doren Stern sent out an unusual Christmas card. It included a short story about a man named George who suffers one defeat too many and plans to end it all by jumping off a bridge.
At the last minute he’s interrupted by a mysterious stranger who shows him what his community would have been like if he hadn’t been around to be a part of it. If this sounds familiar, it’s because three years later it was made into a movie titled “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Every time I see James Stewart run through the streets of Bedford Falls in a state of life-intoxication shouting “Merry Christmas,” I get a little life-intoxicated, too.
The world can be a cold place, a mess. The odds are against us, and it’s a miracle we get by-like a Chicago winter. But we do, and often it’s because of the angels without wings who show up from time to time in our lives, like Clarence did for George Bailey. You never know when you’re going to meet one. I’ve run into a few in my time, and maybe you have, too. I met one when I was 10 years old. He was 11, and a quite unlikely angel at that. His angelic qualities were not so obvious, juxtaposed as they were among much rougher features that could be pretty intimidating. As our lives unfolded he helped me through all kinds of hard situations, from then to almost now.
I say almost now because my friend had his own George Bailey moment last spring, and it didn’t end with him running through Bedford Falls shouting “Merry Christmas.” The saddest part of it is that there were plenty of angels around to help him out if he’d only been able to recognize them. Then again, I wonder, did I ever let him know how much he meant to me?
I didn’t know where I was going when I started this note, and I certainly don’t want to darken your spirits. I had this urge to give you all a gift, in the spirit of the season, just like Philip Van Doren Stern. But my conscious intentions to be uplifting seem to have turned into a long overdue communication between me and myself about my grief over my friend’s suicide, which I’d packed under the more mundane thoughts and activities of daily living. That’s the amazing thing about writing- the truth seeps into it, if you let it, and the truth is that the loss of my friend is one of the most important things that’s happened to me this year. In that sense I guess it takes emotional priority over a holiday update about the escapades of my nuclear family. I needed to mourn my friend, and I needed to write this blog in order to do it.
To let go with one hand we need to hold on with the other. Another truth is that “It’s a Wonderful Life” wouldn’t be so wonderful without it’s darkest moments. The losses and disappointments that punctuate our lives make George Baileys of us all, and Clarences, too. The trick is to recognize your angels when you meet them, and to recognize when you can be the angel, too. Thanks for letting me get this out there, and Merry Christmas.
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