Tuesday, January 4, 2011

It's a wonderful life...

One of my favorite movies of all time is Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life, starring Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed. Poor George Bailey thinks that his life is a failure, but fails to realize how many lives he has touched with kindness and love. Regardless of how many times I watch it, I always am overwhelmed at the end of the movie when George Bailey's family receives so much love and support from the very people they committed their lives to helping.

In his darkest hour, George got what he needed, not what he wanted.

The same could be said for us this Christmas.

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Every year, our little family gets together, to share in the revelry of the season. We eat, we laugh, we exchange presents. And save for a few scheduled absentees, we are all together.

This year was the exception. Kind of. And in spite of all the anxiety and sadness that it would not be like it always is, it was exactly what we needed. And certainly not how we wanted it to be.

Make no mistake. In spite of all of it, it was a gift.

John's mom had surgery a few days before Christmas. After much deliberation, John and I decided to cancel our "normal" plans. It was hard to do, thinking that our "people" would be disappointed.

When our "regulars" for our Christmas Eve get together found out the reason we were cancelling (only the second time in fifteen years, folks), they offered words of love and hope. My sister stepped up to the plate and hosted the dinner for the immediate family.

On the 23rd, I made my traditional dinner, on a much smaller scale. Because I was feeding only one person. My beloved father in law. I didn't care what was going on. I did not want Dad to have hospital food on Christmas Eve. John made the drop off and visited with his mom for a while. He met me at home, after the boys and I attended Christmas Eve Mass, and we headed over to my sister's.

My sister had a lovely meal prepared. We shared a quiet evening with our "extended" family. We came home early.

Christmas morning brought three little boys to our bedside, excited about Santa's visit the night before. We saw our children open their presents with the same happiness they always have. We made plans to head out to see Mom and Dad at the hospital. And bring food to share with Dad. To have Christmas dinner, together. In spite of this year's events. But more importantly, because of this year's events.

The happiest memory I will have of this Christmas was the joy on Mom's face as she viewed a special message from the boys on my cell phone. Of seeing her face as the older boys got to hug her. Of how normal they were, in spite of the abnormality of this year.

Best of all, Mom's stay at the hospital was pretty short once she recovered from surgery. She came home. And we came back to their house to celebrate Christmas and New Year's with them and my brother and sister in law who traveled to share the holiday with us. Dear childhood friends of John, in town from Alabama, made the trek two hours north to see my mother in law on New Year's Eve.

There were several important lessons learned this year. Traditions, as beautiful as they are, are not truly necessary in order to have the "perfect" holiday. What is necessary is to have an open heart. To love deeply and truly. To accept the good that inevitably comes back to you when you are true to your own heart and to those you love.

Mom learned that lesson this year. Emotionally.  Gracefully. Beautifully.
I learned that lesson this year. Wholeheartedly. Gratefully. Blessedly.

As uncomfortable as I am with some kinds of change, I learned that change is good. Even in bad circumstances. Especially in bad circumstances. That even though change scares me, I was open to this total upheaval. Because at the end of the day, you want to be with those you love most in the world. And you want to make them happy.

This Christmas will surely stand out as the year that...

The year that Grandma was sick.

The year that we did things differently.

The year that we learned to let go of those things that hinder us. The year that we learned that Christmas is on the 25th of December, but it can really be celebrated any day, each day, with the same generosity of spirit.

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At the end of the movie, George is overcome with gratitude. Gratitude for his family and friends. Gratitude for the way he has lived his life; with honor and integrity. Gratitude for the multitude of blessings he was unable to recognize at one time, but now sees clearly.

This year, my greatest wish was to have my family together.

And I did.

Not in the loud, gargantuan way I have had them in the past.

But in small pieces.

To savor.

To enjoy.

And, most importantly, to recognize this blessing.

And to be grateful for it.

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