Believe it or not, I just sat down tonight and watched “White Christmas” for the first time ever in my entire life. I know what you’re thinking. How can that be? How could any civilized, scrutinized, revitalized, and stabilized human grow up to be in his sixth decade and never have seen this movie? What an incredibly hopeless case I must be. Anybody who’s anybody has seen White Christmas at least a dozen times. It is the essential Christmas movie of all time.
So, I hear.
First of all, I had to do a little research on Rosemary Clooney. I could see plain as day that she was somehow related to George. The eyes and the chin were a dead giveaway. Turns out she’s his Aunt, sister to Mr. Heartthrob’s Dad. It made it a little hard to watch because I kept seeing scenes from ER in my head.
It’s been a long time since I’ve watched anything that had so much singing and dancing woven into the storyline. That used to be the staple of great movies. Singing cowboys. Dancing gangs on the streets of NY. Elvis and Ann Margaret throwing it down in Viva Las Vegas.
I always wondered how anyone kept a straight face while in the middle of a conversation someone breaks out into song and dance. Rosemary comes down to the kitchen in the middle hours of the night to get a snack. Bing pulls a tray of sandwiches from the fridge and a pitcher of milk. They get close by the fire, and Bing serenades her with a song about counting blessings rather than sheep.
If I tried to sing to my wife in the middle of the night to help her get back to sleep, she’d laugh and tell me to go back to bed. She pulls out a 500 page novel and I find her sound asleep on the couch the next morning.
I’m no expert on theater but it seems to me that movies like this were Hollywood’s attempt to bring Broadway to the big screen. The whole concept of bringing “the show” to a little Inn in the woods of Vermont was intriguing to me. The horde of people that showed up with props and lights and costumes moved in like a tsunami and took over the place. The dancing and choreography were tight. The voices excellent. Bing and Danny were funny. The story was better than average.
Here’s what I got out of this movie. Doing something nice for someone else matters. Even if it cost you money and time and it interrupts your schedule, you just do it because it needs to be done. No hidden agenda. No angle on what’s in it for me. Throwing yourself whole-hog into making sure that another person isn’t forgotten is one of the more worthwhile gestures that one person can offer to another.
We need more of that. Christmas is a great backdrop for generosity, but it shouldn’t be the only time of year for it.
I know I talk about my Dad a lot. I don’t mean to imply that he was a saint. But he was good at this whole “do unto others” thing. One spring Mr. Bill Winters broke his leg falling off a ladder. I was grown and gone from home, or I would have been recruited in this effort. Dad spent the entire summer making time to make sure he mowed Mr. Bill’s grass for him. He didn’t do it for extra money. He would never had taken a dime for it. He didn’t owe any favors. He just did it.
I’ve never forgotten that. And a countless list of other small gestures like it.
Life in the movies might be a make-believe world. Nobody sings and dances through life. It almost never snows on Christmas Eve on que. And a lot of people won’t be home for the holidays this year. But don’t think for a minute that everything you hear on the evening news defines who we are, either.
You should know that no matter how rotten this world seems, good hearted folks still exist. There are kids right now writing notes to lonely people who have been locked up in a nursing home since February. A guy on his way to work is stopping to help a stranger change a tire on the side of the road. A patron is leaving an extralarge tip for a single Mom waitress who can barely make ends meet working two jobs and taking care of two kids by herself. A son is driving 80 miles out of his way after work to help his widowed Dad with the laundry. Supper will be late tonight.
Maybe the question shouldn’t be, “What do you want for Christmas?” Instead, “What are you doing for someone else this Christmas?”
Look, I’m writing this for me as much as anyone. The easiest thing to do is to just sit back and watch life move on down the road. Close your eyes and hope you don’t have to bother or be bothered.
The hardest and best thing to do is to see a need and meet it.
A white Christmas would be great. Chances are that’s not going to happen where I live. So, I’m dreaming of a Christmas where love drives away the loneliness. Where strangers are welcome. Where simple gestures of kindness make us believe that all hope is not lost. Where old folks are not forgotten. Where cheer comes from a place not wrapped in ribbons and bows.
In my best Crosby baritone voice, buh-buh-buh . . .
May your days be merry and bright,
And may all your Christmases be white.
I think it just started snowing.