Pass the Capricorn (Or, Recognizing the Blessings Even in the Loss)

This year, Christmas just isn’t the same for me.  All my life, especially growing up, Christmas represented the most treasured, the most special time of the year.  And now, looking back, it’s clear what the glue was that held it all together, the one indispensable person who made the holidays something the entire family could enjoy and look forward to.  (Not that it wasn’t clear before, but sometimes loss hones the focus, makes you see things with a crystalline clarity made pointed and sharp from the stiletto blade of absence.)

 

My mother loved Christmas.  She started preparing for it weeks in advance.  The first Sunday in December, in that long-ago world of the 20th century, she would round up the family, and we’d head over to Wambach Farms (a family-owned Rochester, NY-area market that, after serving the community for generations, sadly, closed its doors earlier this year) to buy our Christmas tree–and choosing just the right tree was no small task!  We’d examine them all, until we found the one we all agreed on; then my father would load it into the trunk and tie it down, and we’d head back home and decorate for hours.

 

Mom also spread Christmas cheer to non-family members.  She baked cookies for scores of friends and neighbors, invited people to the house all through December, and invented participatory games each year the visitors could enjoy.

 

For the past two decades, I’ve lived in Vermont–having moved away from my hometown at the dawn of the 2000s.  But Christmas was no less special, even then.  Until this year.

Last winter, my mother passed away from lung cancer.  It was sudden, unexpected, undiagnosed until the very end.  And now, at Christmastime, I find it’s hard to want to celebrate.  For me, and what this time of year has always meant to me, the essence, the guts, have been ripped out.  There is a part of me that wants to fast-forward a fortnight, bypass the holidays, and emerge on the other side of 2019.

But then I pause, catch myself. And think of my mother’s all-time favorite Christmas movie . . .

*********************

When It’s A Wonderful Life debuted in movie theaters in 1946, it wasn’t the box-office hit its producers and director, Frank Capra, hoped for.  It seemingly had everything going for it–a rousing, feel-good message on the heels of a nightmarish, horrific world war, a first-rate cast and crew, and the return of popular actor James Stewart to the Silver Screen after five years away, during which time he’d served with distinction in the war.  But, despite being nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards (losing out to The Best Years of Our Lives), the movie fell flat with audiences that year.  It was only decades later, when television audiences were re-introduced to it every holiday season, that its star rose.

 

Even for all that, there are, and always have been, critics of It’s A Wonderful Life specifically and Frank Capra more generally.  His films are too mawkish, the naysayers argue.  They view life through rose-colored glasses.  Long before It’s A Wonderful Life graced the Silver Screen, Capra had made his mark with pictures such as It Happened One Night and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, among many others.  His detractors coined the term “Capricorn” in response to his movies, brushing them off as “sentimental hogwash,” as old Mr. Potter himself grouses in It’s A Wonderful Life.

 

Capra responded with his motion pictures and successful career as a film director, and with quotes like this one: “My films must let every man, woman, and child know that God loves them, that I love them, and that peace and salvation will become a reality only when they all learn to love each other.”

And of course no Capra movie, perhaps no movie, period, embodies this sentiment more than It’s A Wonderful Life.  Most are familiar with the story of George Bailey, the character played by Stewart, an “everyman” who falls on hard times and sees his fortunes dwindle to the point where he is facing jail time for a mistake his uncle has made with their family-owned bank’s finances.  George, upon learning and coming to grips with his dire situation, returns home on Christmas Eve after a fruitless day searching for the lost money.  Frustrated, fed up with his life, he rails, throws a tantrum, berates the kids and the “drafty old house” they live in.  “It’s like living in a refrigerator,” he yells.  And when he reaches for the cap on the newel post of the staircase banister, about to head upstairs, it comes off, loose–as it has always done.  But this time, this time . . . He motions to throw it, but, pulling himself back together–at least for the moment–he puts it back in place.

 

Later, he leaves, heads to a bridge in a blizzard, and considers jumping off, into the cold water, ready to end it all.  Just as he is about to take the plunge, Clarence, his guardian angel, who has been observing the entire sad tableau, dives in first.  He knows George will be compelled to jump in after him and rescue him to safety, which is exactly what happens.  It is at this point that the true magic of this Capra classic reaches its apogee.  Clarence ultimately shows George what the world would be like if he’d never been born, how much worse off people would be, how things George has always taken for granted would be wiped away, gone, as if stricken by a sorcerer’s spell.  This causes George to realize he’s really lived “a wonderful life,” and he begs Clarence to take him back, to allow him to return to his old life with all the problems and trials and jams.

 

When George does return, he’s a new man, grateful for the very things he had been cursing before the experience with Clarence began.  He runs home, hugs his wife and children, even kisses the loose newel cap when it comes off the post again.  And then, of course, we learn that George won’t be going to jail, after all.  His wife has set in motion a miracle.  The town, his town, is coming to the rescue.  And as his brother, Harry, proclaims, amidst the gathering throng of family and friends, George is “the richest man in town.”

 

Corny?  You bet.  Sentimental?  Gushing!  But it’s pure cinematic gold.  And every time I watch it, I feel better for the experience.

 

This year, more so than ever.  Because, for all its contrivances and old-fashioned saccharine qualities, It’s A Wonderful Life emphasizes the good things in life, and reminds us that, even amidst pain and loss and hard times, we have things to be thankful for.  Yes, it’s true.  For me, Christmas will never be the same.  There is an absence there that can never be filled again. But watching George Bailey kissing his broken staircase and laughing over his bloodied lip helps me to see that if I feel loss this Christmas season, it means there is something in my life, in my past, that is special enough and pure enough and loving enough to elicit this feeling in the first place.  It’s something to embrace, not flee from.  To appreciate and value.  And remember.

 

So, during this holiday season, I don’t care what the critics say.

Pass me the Capricorn.

 

Thanks so much for reading, and I hope you all have a blessed and joyous holiday.

 

–Mike

66 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Lee
    Dec 23, 2018 @ 17:52:57

    Please subscribe to https://planetearthnewsletter.wordpress.com/. PLANET EARTH NEWSLETTER.com is not online anymore. Looking forward to you continuing your membership.
    Your Friend Lee

    Reply

  2. laurelwolfelives
    Dec 23, 2018 @ 18:01:30

    Clarence jumped in to “save” George. He knew George wouldn’t let him drown. This has always been my favorite Christmas movie. I can’t watch it anymore, though. Christmas is just too sad for me.
    I used to go all out and every room in my house had trees and decorations. My dissolution is certainly not on the scale of yours but I understand how loss can affect your life…especially holidays.
    I hope yours is wonderful and just know that your mama is smiling and most likely decorating Heaven.

    Reply

  3. Minister Gertrude Ferguson - Founder & CEO- Enough Tribulations
    Dec 23, 2018 @ 18:10:21

    Hi Mike, mom would love for you to continue the tradition, and cherish her memories, although Christmas will never be the same without her. My mom was always fond of Christmas too; however, she went home to be with the Lord, one December 29th. However, I know she’s somewhere watching over us each Christmas, and always. God bless you and your family. Merry Christmas!

    Reply

  4. ritaroberts
    Dec 23, 2018 @ 18:43:47

    Merry X,mas Mike. I love that you think of your mom especially on this festive season. You are right it is never the same when they are gone. No doubt she is watching over you. X,mas and New Year is always a touching time for everyone but we only realize that when we are older. The young ones have to reach this stage to appreciate how we feel and I think the film It’s a wonderful life say’s it all. Enjoy your X,mas Mike and all the very best for the coming New Year.

    Reply

  5. Rosaliene Bacchus
    Dec 23, 2018 @ 19:00:40

    So sorry that you’ve lost your mother. Christmas time is never the same without mothers who, like your mother, went all out to make it a special time for her family. Blessings ❤

    Reply

  6. magarisa
    Dec 23, 2018 @ 20:32:10

    I hope that you will have some joy this Christmas despite your loss. I’ve enjoyed every one of your posts this year, and look forward to reading more of your insightful posts in 2019.

    Reply

  7. John W. Howell
    Dec 23, 2018 @ 21:27:20

    A very touching post, Mike. I’m sorry for the loss of your mother and I’m sure she would want you to carry on loving Christmas as she did. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

    Reply

  8. Alexis Rose
    Dec 24, 2018 @ 12:47:58

    Merry Christmas Mike. We ring an angel-wing bell on our tree everyday while its up.

    Reply

  9. Dragthepen
    Dec 24, 2018 @ 15:35:49

    We share a similar story
    Dad passed away over twenty years and Christmas isn’t the same
    I miss his festive spirit and the singing.. Today’s holiday season is about getting amd not enough receiving. 🌲

    Reply

  10. Mary J. McCoy-Dressel
    Dec 25, 2018 @ 00:55:22

    I was an adult with kids when I lost my mom a few weeks before Christmas, and then later, my dad. It was then I realized I’d have to make my own traditions which no longer included going to their home for Christmas. One day you will have your own traditions, Mike, and new memories to share. As a mom of sons, I can tell you, your mom would be proud of you. Merry Christmas to you and yours.

    Reply

  11. A. Guanlao
    Dec 25, 2018 @ 02:24:17

    I understand your mixed feelings about Christmas. I also think about my mother with some sadness during this time of the year because it was at this time of the year that she was very ill. My family and I ended up taking her to the emergency room the day after Christmas and found out that she had a heart attack. She hid her illness from us for months until she could no longer do so. The doctors thought she would die the day we took her to the hospital, but she managed to live on a little longer in the ICU until early January.

    That sad holiday emergency room visit happened 14 years ago. I can’t forget what happened, but as time passes, I realize that life continues on. We may be sad when someone special leaves our lives, but sometimes others come in who can offer something that enriches our lives too even in a small way. No one can replace my mother, but I feel fortunate that since her passing I have met people who have inspired me creatively or personally because of their determination to live despite some serious problems and hardships.

    I am glad that you have found comfort in watching your mother’s favorite Christmas movie. I like It’s A Wonderful Life too. I agree it is kind of sappy and corny, but I like its optimistic outlook that one person can make a positive difference in the world. The local stations here used to air it on TV almost every year but sadly not anymore.

    I hope you have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, Mike. Take care.

    Reply

  12. SuperDuque
    Dec 26, 2018 @ 00:18:22

    Reply

  13. Lyn
    Dec 26, 2018 @ 09:00:31

    Beautiful post, Mike. Losing a parent at any time is never easy, and it’s even harder at Christmas. I lost my Dad near Christmas when I was 14 and my Mum just after Mother’s Day 33 years ago. I love Christmas, especially when my nine grandchildren are all together. There is so much laughter and silliness.
    I hope your Christmas Day was truly joyous, my friend, and that the New Year will be blessed with the peace, joy, love and contentment that only God can give.

    Reply

  14. Anna Waldherr
    Dec 27, 2018 @ 00:45:40

    I lost my mother several years ago, and still miss her terribly. But I have countless warm memories of her. I am certain your mother would want you to live a full life, and do the things she would if she were here. You are her legacy. By the way, I love “It’s A Wonderful Life”. Happy Holidays! ❤

    Reply

  15. K E Garland
    Dec 27, 2018 @ 02:54:52

    ❤ Same to you Mike! I hope your Christmas was filled with peace and love.

    Reply

  16. kimberlywenzler
    Dec 27, 2018 @ 14:21:39

    What a beautiful sentiment. I’m sorry for your loss and hope you had a peaceful Christmas.

    Reply

  17. The Eye-Dancers
    Dec 27, 2018 @ 15:00:08

    Thanks so much, Kimberly! I hope you had a wonderful Christmas, too.:)

    Reply

  18. Alexis Chateau
    Dec 27, 2018 @ 15:43:40

    I was wondering how you would manage this Christmas. I’m glad to hear you found the silver lining. They say it gets easier over time. I’ve never lost anyone close to me as an adult, so I can’t say. But, for all our sakes, I hope they’re right.

    Happy holidays, Mike. I look forward to working with you for yet another year.

    Reply

  19. rmcalzada
    Dec 28, 2018 @ 02:07:30

    So happy that you have an everlasting connection with your mom, may she rest in peace. I know it’s a tragedy, but I have yet to see It’s a Wonderful Life all the way through. That needs to change soon!

    Reply

  20. ellie894
    Dec 29, 2018 @ 00:43:10

    Mike, this was so beautiful. My own mother also died of lung cancer 15 years ago. She passed away just a few days before Christmas that year. I still miss her and I still have sadness this time of year. I’m so sorry for your loss. You wrote of loss and love with hope. Your mother must be smiling with a warm heart and sending you the same love that she always has. My thoughts are with you. Take care, suzanne 🌷

    Reply

  21. SuperDuque
    Dec 29, 2018 @ 05:40:49

    Reply

  22. Lara/Trace
    Dec 29, 2018 @ 17:54:12

    You write so beautifully! Happy New Year!

    Reply

  23. Donna Gwinnell Lambo-Weidner
    Dec 30, 2018 @ 01:32:42

    It’s wonderful when our memories are so beautiful and heartwarming. Looks like you were blessed with a great mother, and she with a wonderful son. Happy New Year Mike ❤

    Reply

  24. Karina Pinella
    Jan 04, 2019 @ 13:00:51

    My condolences to you about your mother. It is sad to feel the loss when you had years of tradition with that special person prominently leading during a festive period. It’s good to have an inspirational movie or a book to help or in some way offer comfort in times of sorrow and grief. May the new year bring you many uplifting moments.

    Reply

  25. Karina Pinella
    Jan 04, 2019 @ 16:22:55

    Thanks 😊

    Reply

  26. Sue Dreamwalker
    Jan 05, 2019 @ 14:05:51

    Happy New Earth Year to you Mike. May it bring many blessings to you

    Reply

  27. Juli D. Revezzo
    Jan 07, 2019 @ 19:24:44

    I’m sorry for your loss, Mike. My father passed away several years ago, near Christmas and the first two Christmases afterward were hard on me, indeed. I now keep the decorating until that date just to give myself something else “pretty” to focus on instead of grief. Take it easy on yourself and know you will get through this!

    Reply

  28. barbaramonier
    Jan 10, 2019 @ 17:59:51

    Life never feels the same after losing a parent, no matter our age. Great job with the blog post. All the best for 2019!

    Reply

  29. ParentingIsFunny
    Jan 11, 2019 @ 19:05:48

    Always a classic.

    Reply

  30. The Eye-Dancers
    Jan 11, 2019 @ 20:00:22

    Indeed.:)

    Reply

  31. Teagan R. Geneviene
    Jan 22, 2019 @ 20:06:52

    Michael, this poignant post is a beautiful tribute. Your mother would be proud. Hugs on the wing.

    Reply

  32. europasicewolf
    Jan 24, 2019 @ 11:53:31

    I lost my dad just before Christmas this year – that too was very sudden and unexpected. Life feels very different now. He was my rock. I loved this post. Big Wolfie hug for you 🤗🐺

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: