It Really IS a Wonderful Life

On Christmas day we went through the drive through at Starbucks on our way out of town. Now there’s a part of me that is morally opposed to spending five dollars for a coffee, even if it does have three pumps of pumpkin spice syrup and two splendas. Actually that’s what Susie gets. I get the venti white chocolate mocha. To me, if coffee doesn’t taste like a cross between a chocolate shake and a candy bar, it’s not worth it. But the bottom line is that Susie wanted a Starbucks, and since I love her, my duty as a good husband overrides my aversion to overpriced coffee. So here’s the point… The woman at the drive through window (who, by the way, would have had every right to be Scroogey about working on Christmas day) actually wished us a merry Christmas. Not “happy holidays,” but merry Christmas.

Now, in reality, I don’t usually get too bent out of shape about the whole “happy holidays” thing. I mean I don’t think a person should be obligated to say “merry Christmas” if they don’t want to. And after all, there are several holidays around this time, so it’s not necessarily the case that they’re avoiding the word “Christmas.” So I don’t get too upset when people wish me “happy holidays” instead of “merry Christmas.” But since it was actually Christmas day, it couldn’t possibly be politically incorrect to say, “merry Christmas.” Even if one doesn’t celebrate Christmas, there’s no harm in wishing someone a nice day on the day that happens to be Christmas day. So I was surprised at how much I actually appreciated hearing it. And she was just so darn nice.

Speaking of that, everyone seems nicer on Christmas day. It used to be that everyone was nicer for the whole Christmas season, but that’s not the case any more. For most of Advent leading up to Christmas, people are just too stressed out getting ready for Christmas and getting the Christmas shopping done that they can’t be bothered to make mankind their business (normally I would be more progressive and say “humanity” rather than “mankind,” but I really wanted you to get the reference to A Christmas Carol.) Anyway, I guess by Christmas day, everyone is pretty much done getting ready for Christmas (whatever isn’t done isn’t going to get done), so the pressure’s off, and people are free to be nice. Note to self: the opposite of stress is peace, and peace frees us to be nice. Less stress = more nice. No wonder the angels sang about peace on earth when Jesus was born.

Even with the added stress that the holidays can bring (you know the saying: you can pick your friends, but you’re stuck with your family), people seem more relaxed and peaceful on Christmas day. I think it’s because we don’t have to go to work, and so even though Christmas might bring its own anxieties, we’ve broken out of the regular routine for a day or so. This is what’s so great about a holiday – we get to step off the hamster wheel and take a break. But there’s a problem. Sometimes people are so desperate to squeeze every bit of enjoyment out of the holiday that they overdo it. This is my beef with New Year’s.

The New Year is now approaching, and we’re all making plans for New Year’s Eve. But my pet peeve about New Year’s Eve is that some people try to make up for whatever of life’s enjoyments they may have missed out on throughout the year, and they try to cram a year’s worth of fun into one night. And that never ends well. So what’s the solution? I think the solution is to spread the fun out over the whole year, then when next year’s New Year’s eve rolls around, you won’t feel like you have to make up for lost time. So… New Year’s resolution number one: Focus on finding peace this New Year’s eve, and then spread the fun and happiness out over the whole year.

Remember George Bailey? The main character in the classic film, It’s a Wonderful Life, George Bailey (played by Jimmy Stewart) longs to get out of his small home town and do impressive things like build cities. But he never quite gets out, does he? Instead he’s stuck there, married to a woman who loves him, and surrounded by friends who care about him, all the while making a positive difference in his community. He thought life sucked until he was presented with the alternative. Too many people have this idea that for a life to be worthwhile it has to be spectacular, as though you have to get mentioned in the history books or you’re worthless. But as I said in Spiritual Blueprint, if you accomplish nothing else in life but to have loved ones and friends who will miss you when you’re gone, then your life has meaning. In reality, it’s often the drive to accomplish things in the future that makes us miss out on the present (and tempts us to try to make up for lost time at the end of the year!). So… New Year’s resolution number two: Focus on spending time with the people who matter rather than accomplishing anything grandiose.

Having said that, one can relate to George Bailey, because most of us know what it’s like to feel like you’re spinning your wheels, as though you’re stuck in a rut and you’re a slave to a routine. Anyone who is older than 35 probably knows what it’s like to wonder whether there’s more to life than the daily grind. In fact, some days are so grindy that we begin the day wishing for it to be over already. As I say in Spiritual Blueprint, the solution is to trade the routine in for a rhythm. The routine is when life happens to you, and you’re just dragged along for the ride. Rhythm, on the other hand, is when you live your life intentionally, which means taking regular breaks to stop and breathe, take stock of your situation, count your blessings, and make conscious decisions about what to do next. Just like you can’t sing a whole song on one breath, you can’t get through a week, or maybe even a day, without stopping to take a breath.

One of my favorite films, Groundhog Day, is the story about a guy who has to live the same day over and over again until he finally gets the point that to be really happy you have to live in the present, not looking too far ahead, but taking it one day at a time. Is it too optimistic to hope that we could actually do this? Maybe if we could, we would find enough peace to be nice to each other more than just on Christmas day. So… New Year’s resolution number three: Focus on living in the present, appreciating the joys of each day (not flying past them to get somewhere else), and counting my blessings.

I think the key to peace is simplifying life, not complicating it more – in other words, not adding more to our lives, but actually streamlining life. That might mean cutting some things out of life. So… final New Year’s resolution: Find something to quit. Figure out what I can give up in order to make more room for a rhythm that incorporates the five homes in healthy balance: rest from work, a healthy lifestyle that includes exercise, time spent with loved ones, creativity, and a spirituality grounded in gratitude.

It really IS a wonderful life, so in 2011, let’s slow down and enjoy it. In spite of the fact that I have no idea what Auld Lang Syne actually means, I wish everyone a happy and healthy 2011.

Jim Papandrea

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About Jim Papandrea

Jim Papandrea is an author, educator, and singer/songwriter. Visit his website at:
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One Response to It Really IS a Wonderful Life

  1. Kim Barrio says:

    I just finished Richard Rohr’s ‘Simplicity’ and I couldn’t agree with you more about rhythm vs routine. Every morning Meaghan and I give Jesus a morning offering together when she wakes up. “good morning Dear Jesus, this day is for You, please bless all I think, say, and do, Amen”
    Then it is all the harder for me to get impatient when she takes 10 minutes to put on a pair of socks. It is a self-designed ‘crabby prevention’ tool. Doesn’t work everyday either, by the way. HA! But it works more often than not, which is better than most things. Plus if I keep things simple for Meg, she is easier to work with. It is a lesson for me as well.
    I try to build into my daily routine (rhythm!) “crab prevention” like reading the daily readings, thanking God for sunshine, rain, even snow occasionally, and singing along to The Newsboys. I usually sing into Jerry’s voicemail a little made-up ditty about taking out the garbage when he gets home, and hey how about making dinner, honey? That also works more often than not, HAHA.
    On a stress-less note, I find that people are easier to work with, when I ask them how they are doing and really listen to the answer. I consider treating my coworkers with care as future “crab prevention” innoculation, and also just what Jesus would do. Some days are easier than others. Plus I make brownies at least twice a month. That keeps all matter of wolves at bay at work. Chocolate truly is nectar of the gods. (thank you to the mayans!)
    So in short, my work/daily rhythm is my way of ensuring the balance of holiness, formation and evangelization throughout. I can’t do one and not do the other two or it gets off balance.
    plus a caramel macchiato occasionally is just great.
    Feliz Ano Nuevo!

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