After we had eaten our turkey, dressing, and potatoes smothered in gravy and had a second piece of pie, it was acceptable to start Christmas. Many of you already know my rule, no Christmas until after Thanksgiving. One unintended consequence of this mandate occurs the Friday after Thanksgiving when we attempt to put up all the Christmas decorations in one day. Another result is the onslaught of Christmas movies, many from the Hallmark channel. My wife has been recording them since Hallmark started streaming them non-stop, so we have plenty on tap.
With a good puzzle in progress and the dishes done, we started watching one. In this story, a burned-out architect from the big city gets detained in “small town USA” a few days before Christmas. He is a little “prickly” (their term, not mine) and is anxious to get on his way. Over breakfast with an old friend, he confesses that after achieving his dream of success and fame in the big city, he is disillusioned to realize it is empty and lacks meaning. He says, “I worked so hard to get to the top only to find another 10 hours of work added onto an already impossible calendar.” I know exactly what that feels like.
The rest of the movie is a series of opportunities for him to rediscover the things that are meaningful and fulfilling. It is a little cheesy and terribly formulaic, but it is amazingly accurate.
He discovers that serving others brings joy and meaning. He learns that his talent and skill for architecture has meaning and becomes fulfilling again when he is helping other people create their hopes and dreams. In this case, it is children whose parents are service men and women stationed overseas. Every one of us has talents and skills gained through the journey of our lives. When we expend that resource on ourselves selfishly, the results are empty. However, when we use what we have to create community and move others closer to their dreams, we find true joy and engagement.
He discovers that withdrawing and isolating during difficulty and pain only serve to amplify and exaggerate the negatives. When he allows others to get close to him and move through his difficulty with him, he finds that strength in relationships extends past the moment. Of course, being a Hallmark movie, the person he finds himself getting close to is a single mom with a teenage daughter who volunteers at the day camp for the kids. It is natural to move away from people when we are hurting, but healing and strength are found when we share our lives with the people in our community.
Finally, after being offered the opportunity to return to life in the big city and to the fame and fortune it can provide, he discovers that what he really wants is to have time to be with the people he loves and pursue meaningful (if a little less famous) work. Having made the mistake of sacrificing everything for his work, he chooses to forego that empty definition of success. This time around, he chooses relationships (especially with the single mom), authenticity, and community over hollow self-importance.
Hallmark movies may not win any Tony awards. They are a little predictable (ok, VERY predictable.) Sometimes the scenery is a little incongruent (in this movie there was snow on the ground and deciduous trees in full summer leaf in the background.) However, the messages are actually on point. Invariably, someone who has traded something important and meaningful for something hollow and unfulfilling finds a new path through some unlikely fortuitous event.
Our lives are not nearly that neat and tidy. Our failures and foibles are rarely resolved in 90 minutes and presented back to us tied up in a big red ribbon. Unfortunately, it often takes years of our lives and numerous losses before we realize we are chasing the wrong rainbow. By then, it is often too late to recover or repair what has been lost and torn.
This holiday season, I challenge you to contemplate your life. What have you spent your limited resources of time and energy on? What has been your reward? It is never too late to leave the “big city” and its lies of fulfillment through accomplishment and the applause of people. You too can find the fulfilling and rewarding life of the “small town” where community, relationships, and giving are the mark of a life well spent. These choices seem fitting things to ponder during this season as we celebrate the greatest gift ever given and the One whose life was all about others. That is the hallmark of a good life, and that is the Kimray Way.