Well, we’ve made it to another Christmas already. Once again, we’ve reached the time of year when the American TV stations trot out the holiday classics — “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” and of course, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Did you know that during its initial release, “It’s a Wonderful Life” flopped at the box office? It became a classic because the film’s copyright had lapsed and wasn’t properly renewed due to a clerical error. So, for a bunch of years, no one was required by law to pay royalties to the studio. This was a true gift to television stations who were free to show the movie whenever they wanted. Since “It’s a Wonderful Life” takes place at Christmastime, it was naturally played heavily near the end of the year. Funny how things happen.
“It’s a Wonderful Life” in Real Life
The story of George Bailey, a man whose investment in the people around him pays life-affirming dividends, has become an indelible part of American culture (and Jimmy Stewart’s legacy). Recently, I had a bit of an “It’s a Wonderful Life” experience.
In early August, my wife and I drove from New Jersey to Colorado in a car full of our belongings. We would be moving into our new house days later. Not long after our arrival, we found ourselves with my in-laws and about 20 other family members at a hospital in Colorado Springs. My wife’s grandmother had fallen ill, and she was beginning to slip away from this life. During one of our visits to the hospital, the family encouraged me to sit with Grandma. She had been non-responsive for quite some time. I sat down and took her hand into mine. She sat up, struggling to move closer to me. I thought she was trying to whisper something into my ear. When I leaned in close enough, my grandmother-in-law planted a big, wet kiss on the side of my face. After that, she laid back down, exhausted. We held hands for a while and she returned to sleep. A few days later, Grandma passed away.
That incident at the hospital made an impression on my wife’s family and surprised me. As I found out later, Grandma’s show of affection was apparently consistent with her character. Not so much because it was the first time she’d embraced and kissed me so. It was more about what the gesture meant. In her prime, Grandma Conarty was known for creating a welcoming atmosphere for people. This was a foundation she set for the family. I was new to the family (married into it for only three years and change), and Grandma spent her last burst of energy expressing love to me and making me feel part of her family. My wife later shared with me that I was the one family member present that Grandma had never nurtured when she was in her prime. Perhaps she wanted to let me know that I was loved by her as well. That’s by far the most touching welcome and farewell I’ve ever experienced (the Jewish word “shalom” comes to mind as it is an expression of both welcome and goodbye). I will always cherish that moment.
While Grandma was in the hospital (and later, hospice) the room was always filled with people. At times there were more, but I don’t think I ever saw less than 15 people in attendance. An impressive number of people set aside their lives and agendas to be by Grandma’s bedside.
Leaving a Legacy of Love
But the story doesn’t end there. I was asked to sing at Grandma’s memorial service and of course I said, “yes.” At a church in a town the size of Mayberry, the sanctuary was filled with people. Looking out on the crowd, I saw people of all ages who were there to pay their last respects. The officiating preacher came at his own expense all the way from Tennessee and would not accept payment because of his close relationship with Grandma and Grandpa Conarty. As I listened to the memorial stories, it became clear that Grandma was beloved because she had shown love to her family and friends for more than 9 decades. There was some crying, but there was also laughing after some funny stories and expressions of appreciation for the marks that Grandma had made on everyone’s life. Much like those who showed up for George Bailey, a crowd came together in honor of this woman who had made a great investment into their lives. The memorial service was a testament to the rich legacy of love left by this woman. Man, I’d like to have that when I pass on!
I share this story to remind us all; the people in our lives will not always be around. Let’s resolve this holiday season to slow down and spend some quality time with those who are important to us. Let’s resolve that in 2016, we’ll invest more into the lives of the folks around us. Let’s not let time run out before realizing we’d gotten our priorities backward. We spend so much time and energy focusing on our careers, sometimes to the neglect of family and friends. At times, I know I’ve been guilty of it. However, if I want that “It’s a Wonderful Life” ending, now is the time to be investing in people.
Careers will come and go. Relationships remain. When the job disappears, who will be there for us? What will be our life’s legacy?
Here’s wishing you the happiest of holidays and a wonderful new year. In the spirit of holiday cheer, we’ve prepared a video “greeting card” for you:
This will be the last PropelGrowth blog post of 2015. Thanks for joining us this far on the journey. Candyce and I look forward to providing you with future content after the holidays. We wish you God’s richest blessings and a wonderful life in 2016.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go and spend some quality time with my wife. 😉
This holiday season, PropelGrowth has made a donation to the Efrem Foundation, an non-profit dedicated to helping bereaved children heal from the death of a loved one.
MIDI sequence in video by Gary Wachtel from an arrangement of “Sleigh Ride” by John LaBarbera.