Is it Really Such a Wonderful Life?
As we’re picking up the last shreds of wrapping paper and carefully packing away the ornaments for next year’s holiday season, a new year is quickly approaching. There’s always an air of nostalgia that can’t be denied when it comes to saying farewell to auld lang syne. Never does a year end where we don’t look back and take inventory of the indelible mark it left on our lives.
It was a tough year, not for me personally, but for many. The political climate alone was enough to put a damper on even the happiest times. I found myself avoiding the news, staying away from outspoken people and focusing much more on the simple pleasures of life — a good book, true friends, plants, animals and family.
This holiday season, Lanny and I put on our day-tripping shoes and headed to Grapevine, The Christmas Capital of Texas, to see what we had been missing. That little suburb of Fort Worth offers a spectacular light display! We had a delicious lunch at Main Street Bistro and later that day, we took in the sights and sounds of “small town Texas.”
I had never seen “It’s A Wonderful Life.” There, I said it.
I’m fairly certain I’m the only adult on the planet who can claim that truth. When I realized it was showing in the renovated 1940s Palace Theater, I knew exactly how I wanted to spend the evening.
Sure enough, it was everything I had hoped for, particularly in light of the fact that it was a bit hard for me to get into the holiday spirit this year. I fell in love with Jimmy Stewart’s character portrayal of George Bailey and his reawakening to what was really important. Sometimes it’s hard to see what really matters when you’re looking through the haze of life’s hardest hits.
Many of my friends and family are facing medical, personal or financial crises and they find themselves approaching this new year with understandable apprehension. Life’s not always funny, fun or exciting and sometimes it takes a great deal of digging to reach down far enough to find the positive when it seems like life is handing those we love a never-ending supply of lemons.
I’ve learned to pay close attention to those who have weathered life’s storms with grace and dignity. My dad and Uncle Hugo are prime examples. Faced with terminal cancer, neither of them complained. In fact, neither wanted to discuss it!
My uncle would come over for coffee and you could tell he was truly savoring every rich, aromatic sip. He lived what was left of his life with intention, relishing each moment and focusing on the limited pleasures that life still had to offer. He made every remaining moment count.
Witnessing the grace and acceptance of the way these men approached their difficult journey changed me. I learned that what’s been quoted through the years is much more than mere pretty words — it is, instead, a fact: life really isn’t measured by the number of breaths you take, but by the moments that take your breath away.
I suppose it’s up to each of us to decide what we consider breathtaking…
Blooming where you’re planted
My great-uncle August Pfundt made the papers in 1983 when a local reporter heard of his green thumb and his desire to live life to the fullest, regardless of his circumstances. Because his wife, Ella, had passed away and he could no longer stay in his home, his only option was to move to what-was-then Sweetbriar Nursing Home. This meant uprooting the only existence he had known as an adult, at least to my knowledge. It meant leaving behind the rose garden that grew beautifully in the sandy soil that Ella would literally, at times, sweep with a corn-straw broom.
One day in 1979, August pitched in to help with the gardening chores of the nursing home and from that point on, he became the facility’s resident gardener. He took great pride in his renewed pastime and gave away his petunias, zinnias, verbenas and irises to anyone having a bad day.
In all my years of knowing him, I don’t think he ever had a harsh word to say. He was a gentle man, a humble man, who knew how to make the most of what others would view as a bad situation.
He knew that watering his garden, and pulling the weeds was the only way to make his shrinking existence meaningful and he did it with love and gratitude. Then he spread the joy he created with his own hands — and a little help from above — with others.
He lived to be 97.
And August was loved by everyone who knew him during his time “between the dash.” (see video below for Linda Ellis' "Life Between the Dash")
Choose your word carefully
In recent years, resolutions have taken a backseat to the “one word movement.” Let’s face it, a long list of things we think we’ll be able to accomplish in the new year sets us up for failure and disappointment. A 2019 To Do list of 10 things (or two, if they’re nearly impossible to achieve) is not going to do us any favors, but choosing one word to be our guide into the coming year gives us at least a fighting chance of getting it right.
On websites like Oneword365, you can see why choosing the right word is a much wiser choice.
My word for 2019 is “simplify.” Life gets messy and I am not a fan of chaos. “Simplify” to me means to find pleasure in the mundane; to declutter; to live in the moment; to stay away from those who suck the air out of a room just by walking in, and to surround myself with things that truly interest me.
That, personally, seems so much more doable than forcing a 2019 resolution list of potentially-unreachable goals that will be ignored by January 15. Stick around and let’s see how my one word approach is going to pan-out as the days roll on.
What will your word be?
“Peas for pennies, greens for dollars, cornbread for gold”
On New Year's Day 2018, I ate no black-eyed peas. I ate no greens. And while I can’t say it was a bad year, I can say that it was eye-opening, with moments that made me reevaluate everything I had come to believe. In retrospect, I think my word for last year was “pensive.”
So this year, I’m not risking it. I’m making the Southern standard for good luck and prosperity: collards, black-eyed peas, and cornbread. (No doubt an odd pairing for the champagne that we’ll probably share long before the ball drops in Times Square, but digress…)
I just couldn’t help wondering how this odd combination came to be accepted as the “magic ticket” to a year of good luck. Being the information junkie that I am, I wanted to know, “Why, of all things, black-eyed peas, greens and cornbread?”
What my cyber-sleuthing uncovered was that, according to legend, the Union soldiers ate (or destroyed) all the crops with the exception of what they considered to be fit only for animals. To the Southerners, however, eating the Civil War leftovers was a sign of tenacity. They were grateful they had any food at all.
The peas represent coins; the greens (whether they are collards, mustard, turnip greens or cabbage) represent paper money and the cornbread, gold.
Maybe so, maybe not. Why risk it, right?
Recipe, video for Black-eyed pea cornbread casserole: Link: https://www.plainchicken.com/2017/12/black-eyed-pea-cornbread-casserole.html
Keeping it real in 2019
Yes, there are going to be hard times again this year that we’ll need to power through. Yes, the older we get the more friends we will be deleting from our Christmas card list because they have gone on before us. Yes, it could get bumpy.
But there will also be classic movies, filmed before some of us were born, to remind us that whatever we have to deal with today is not original. It's life; it’s raw and real. There will also be coffee to sip with those we love and flowers to share. The sun will rise in the east, regardless of what our bank account says, or our medical reports reveal.
Let’s make a pact to not be like George Bailey, who nearly loses his life before he recognizes the importance of focusing on the positive.
Be like August. Water your garden, “weed” when necessary and eat your black-eyed peas, greens and cornbread.
Because, yes, it really is a wonderful life.
Wishing you and yours a blessed New Year,
When visiting Grapevine, particularly with children, don't miss Great Wolf Lodge and
a visit to the Gaylord Texan for some icy adventures!
To experience one of the most meaningful poems ever written, click on the arrow to watch the video of Linda Ellis' "The Dash"