Time for remembering and looking ahead

Any of us could be the richest person in town

By Morf Morford

Tacoma Daily Index

It’s that strange time of the year when we all hear messages, music and those endless television specials that there are needy among us and our obligation is not so much to be generous, but to be decent human beings toward those who are struggling.

No matter how isolated and protected many of us might be, in 2021, it has become stunningly obvious that there are more and more of us on, or being pushed by circumstances, the edge financially, mentally or, for many of us, physically.

The word “precarity” has emerged on many articles, commentaries and conversations.

This is the time of year when many of the “rules” or at least assumptions no longer apply.

“It is better to give than to receive” is hardly a principle most of us live by in the other months of the year.

There is the belief, or at least the statement, that each one of us belongs, that each one of us, no matter how small or humble, has a place, and that we can, with a resolution or two, make our lives, our relationships and our careers more satisfying and maybe even fulfilling.

And being together, gathering is central to all of it.

We look back, and forward, together.

And even those hardened characters, like The Grinch or Ebeneezer Scrooge, or even the recalcitrant Mr. Potter from It’s a Wonderful Life are shown, maybe even convinced, that there is another way, that accumulating, if not hoarding money and power is not what makes for a satisfying, rewarding or memorable life – and legacy.

We can grab, or in the case of The Grinch, steal, every trinket and crumb and reminder of generosity and celebration and still not be happy.

And, as in the case of the Grinch, Mr. Scrooge, or Mr. Potter, and some holiday grumps you might know, some even learn that true wealth, or even a basic level of contentment or sense of belonging is found nowhere near anything that can be held or hoarded. Or stolen.

And no one is beyond reach, no one is held forever hostage by their own choices or non-optimal past.

A new year, for example, is a new year for everyone.

For the bulk of the year every television network promotes “reality” shows that portray individuals, even semi-celebrities chasing their own version of wealth – or even “survival”.

It’s as if we spend most of our year in some version of “The Hunger Games” and then, for a brief few weeks, we hang lights, spread cheer and focus, to a large degree, on giving and sharing.

Even giving and sharing to those who do not, and perhaps never might, “deserve” it.

The enduring power of a once forgotten film like It’s a Wonderful Life is because it reminds us of our own condition – our own questions – our own dissatisfactions with our own life choices.

We struggle, fantasize and work for wealth, power or status, but the irrefutable bottom line is that someone always has more.

Other people are richer. Stronger. Smarter. Prettier. Or in our social media drenched era, have more “friends”.

These comparisons leave us striving and frustrated, longing to reach an unreachable goal.

The Grinch, Mr. Scrooge, and even Mr. Potter, remind us that the truest, most durable wealth is gratitude and appreciation.

And gratitude and appreciation have very little, if any, cash value.

And, for the most part, cannot be taken from us.

But, as The Grinch, Mr. Scrooge, and Mr. Potter, remind us, they can be lost or at least obscured by our focus on other things.

As George Bailey, portrayed by Jimmy Stewart, reminds us, a rewarding, wonderful life has everything to do with being rich, but being rich has very little to do with money.

What to get for the person who has everything?

The vast majority of us live a life of comfort, ease, travel and entertainment that few human beings, even a generation or two ago could barely imagine.

Yet our screens and fantasies, our visible world, are all consumed with a never-finished pursuit of material wealth. Of more, of brighter and shinier things.

Contentment is as far from us, maybe even further, than it has ever been.

Most of us have no idea what we really want.

But we know that we don’t have it.

A truism of human nature is that a common enemy forces us to draw together.

As we all know too well, in the 2020s that is no longer true.

Every external threat just seems to drive up our animosity and distrust of each other.

We, as individuals and as a society and culture, are searching for real life; one with meaning and purpose.

And, as with The Grinch, Mr. Scrooge, and even Mr. Potter, that life packed with meaning and purpose is right in front of us.

Hidden in plain sight behind the lights and ribbons.

“And now we welcome the new year. Full of things that have never been.” –Rainer Maria Rilke

In this season we hear stories, or watch them or even tell them ourselves, of those acts of unbidden, maybe even undeserved, kindness and generosity.

This is the season that reminds us, or at least attempts to remind us that we are more than our titles, our occupations and our zip codes.

Dollar signs and elaborate job titles don’t define us, but as some of the oldest traditions continually remind us, how we treat others, especially those who don’t “deserve it” reveals in the fullest and most enduring ways, who we really are.

“Cheers to a new year and another chance for us to get it right.” –Oprah Winfrey

As William Faulkner put it “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

The same is true of the present. The present is never over.

What we do and how we treat each other will never be forgotten.

The New Year is a reminder that we are on a threshold.

But the reality is that we are always on that quivering doorstep of an unknowable tomorrow.