Tag Archive | "It’s A Wonderful Life"

The Empty Stocking

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This is the time of year when broadcast television – both network and cable – besieges its viewers with sentimental Holiday movies.  During this season, many people – myself included – look forward to watching classic Christmas films, films like A Christmas Carole, Miracle on 34th Street, and It’s a Wonderful Life.


All of these films instruct us that “good” ultimately triumphs over “evil,” that the lives of each of us – no matter how poor or lowly – have value in our world, and that through belief our dreams can and will come true.  With angelic choir voices swelling to a crescendo, these films provide the “Hollywood endings” that can make even the most hard-hearted Scrooge teary-eyed.


If only this was how the world actually operated, it would be a “wonderful life.”  But, such is not the case.  Our world is a cruel and largely heartless place driven by greed and self-interest.  Those who have much often want more, regardless of potential detrimental effects upon others.


Large segments of the population in much of the world live in dire poverty.  In the industrialized nations, hunger and homelessness persist despite the “high standard of living” boasted by their societies and governments.  In the United States, the middle class, decimated by job losses and falling property values, teeters on the brink of poverty as millions of American families face this Holiday Season burdened by the prospects of impending home foreclosures in the New Year: a Merry Christmas indeed!


For those of you who do care (and I believe that most people fall into this category) and are solvent, financially secure, and preparing to celebrate this year’s Holidays, you likely believe that there is nothing that you can do to help, that you as an individual surely cannot solve the problems of mankind.  And, if you feel this way, you certainly are correct.


Yet, if each of us takes care of only ourselves and our families, the problem of those who cannot care for themselves persists and grows – as it has for the millennia that mankind has held sovereignty over the Earth.  The problem, I believe, is one of perception and attitude.  Since the scale of the problem is so overwhelming, we each as individuals feel powerless.  Thus, we pacify our sense of responsibility with whatever charitable work we perform or contributions we make.  But, I believe that each of us can do more.


For inspiration, I draw from yet another, albeit less well-known, Holiday classic motion picture, The Bishop’s Wife.  For those of you unfamiliar with the movie’s plot, the film begins with a bishop praying for Divine guidance regarding the troubled building of a new cathedral.  The guidance he receives from an angel dispatched to assist him, however, has a much deeper personal meaning than securing funding for his project.


At the very end of the film, almost as an afterthought, is appended a sermon about the real meaning of Christmas and of life itself.  Its thoughts, I believe, represent a pearl of wisdom of incalculable value.


“Tonight, I want to tell you the story of an empty stocking.

 

Once upon a midnight clear, there was a child’s cry.  A blazing star hung over a stable, and wise men came with birthday gifts.  We haven’t forgotten that night down the centuries.  We celebrate it with stars on Christmas trees, with the sound of bells, and with gifts.  But, especially with gifts.

 

You give me a book; I give you a tie.  Aunt Martha has always wanted an orange squeezer, and Uncle Henry can do with a new pipe.  For we forget nobody, adult or child.  All the stockings are filled, all that is, except one.  And, we have even forgotten to hang it up:  the stocking for the child born in a manger.  It’s his birthday we’re celebrating.  Don’t let us ever forget that.

 

Let us ask ourselves what He would wish for most.  And then, let each put in his share, loving kindness, warm hearts, and a stretched out hand of tolerance: all the shining gifts that make Peace on Earth.”

 

If many were to read this sermon, take it to heart, and put it into action in their lives, we might all witness many more “Hollywood endings” in the world around us.

How “Great” Is This Recession?

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Great Depression

History has a habit of repeating itself, maybe in not exactly the same sequence. Today’s fiscal woes are a reflection of the Great Depression of the twentieth century.  An economic tailspin ending in financial disaster and many suicides, the Depression began with the collapse of Wall Street in 1929 as a result of greed and speculative trading.  Overnight, millionaires became paupers and America’s lifestyle altered drastically.  President Herbert Hoover turned a blind eye to the situation, erroneously treating it as a market change that would correct itself:  an entire decade would pass before the market rebounded.

 

Wall Street’s collapse impacted the banking industry, which was short on cash. As rumors of a banking failure ran rampant, depositors rushed to retrieve their savings.  It was like that scene from the film It’s a Wonderful Life, where everyone in the small town demanded to pull their money out of George Bailey’s Savings and Loan — except that the 1929 reality was driven by millions of depositors.  Their actions created a domino effect, toppling banking institutions nationwide and causing the economy to hit rock bottom.

 

Unemployment skyrocketed as businesses struggled to stay afloat.  With no income, the housing market took a nosedive; thousands of people lost their homes and farms to foreclosures.  Mother Nature added to the havoc, bringing drought and dust storms that plagued America’s farmlands.  Fearing that all this horror was the wrath of God, people all across the country prayed for forgiveness.  Most of all, they prayed for deliverance.

 

The difference between the Great Depression of the 1930’s and the Great Recession of 2008-09 was that the government did not extend bailouts during the earlier crash.  In addition, insured savings accounts, unemployment insurance, credit cards, and Social Security did not exist.  The future looked bleak in the ’30’s for those who had not jumped out of windows.

 

Franklin Delano Roosevelt succeeded Hoover as our nation’s President, inheriting the daunting task of national recovery.  Roosevelt realized the answer to solving the problem lay in the spending power of the people.  To stimulate their spending, he passed the NRA (National Recovery Act), the WPA (Works Project Administration), and the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps).  He also instituted the SEC (Securities Exchange Commission) and the FDIC (Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation).  Roosevelt charged these organizations with the following tasks:

 

The WPA – Getting Americans back into the workforce and earning incomes.

 

The CCC – Taking young, indigent men off the streets to work on public projects.

 

The SEC – Overseeing financial institutions to ensure that they did not engage in fraudulent practices.

 

The FDIC – To bring trust back to the banking industry, so that depositors would reopen their savings accounts.

 

FDR also set up food banks to put food on the table of many starving and undernourished Americans.  He used the radio to broadcast his “Fireside Chats” and thus became a calming and authoritative voice during hard times.

 

As time passed, the President also enacted Social Security. This was a mandatory savings plan designed to enable those who retired at age 65 to enjoy their twilight in dignity.  All of these were the legacy of FDR, the only President in the history of the United States to be elected for four terms.

 

Despite his best efforts to jump-start economy, the Great Depression dragged on.  Its only solution was World War ll.  With the enactment of the draft and the demand for equipment and supplies needed to fight the war, the economy boomed.  Happy days were here again!

 

I lived through the Great Depression and witnessed men begging for food on the streets on cold wintry nights.   I remember how my mother made them sandwiches and hot drinks, and allowed them to sit in the entryway of our row house, out of the biting wind to enjoy the small offerings that must have seemed like manna to them.

 

The saying goes that “out of something bad comes something good.”  The Great Depression brought families together to enjoy each other’s company.  Holidays were anticipated with relish because it meant sitting around the dining room table for a good meal with several generations of our families.  In some respects, we may be a bit better off today with this current recession.  But in others, such as family intimacy and expressions of gratitude for what we still have, we are lacking. 

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