Remember to realize life while living it

The days of one's life pass so quickly: holidays come and go, blurred by the transience of time. The voices of children fill a home that soon empties as they leave toward their individual destinies. What problems seemed all encompassing one day lose fervor as other concerns come to the fore.

Scattered families, some haunted by divorce, others from constant moves, lament the lack of continuity. With scant knowledge of the past, for many, the future hangs on a loose nail.

The holidays are times when memories surface. Perhaps it is a particular decoration or the anticipation of a long-awaited visit that triggers them. Cards are displayed, a reminder, a smile, reminiscences. Some have gone missing. Accepting what was and not regretting the past for what we have not done or said is a gift.

Living in the present is no easy task, as the wise preach; one need only turn the page.

The profundity of this seemingly simple message is central to philosophical inquiry, captured in the theater, on screen and novels. Thornton Wilder's classic play, "Our Town," is a symbolic interpretation of what he perceived small town life in Vermont to be like at the beginning of the 20th century. This play does not lose its luster and is performed countless times around the world every day.

To set the scene: the stage manager stands outside the immediate action, functioning as a clock that, with detached ironic comments, ticks away the seconds of the characters lives. George Gibbs and Emily Webb are childhood friends who fall in love, marry and expect to spend a lifetime together. Their dreams are tragically cut short when Emily dies in childbirth.

Cut to the cemetery at Grover's Corners. Emily encounters the dead and is given one last chance to go back and observe the lives of her loved ones. Everything is as remembered as she looks around the table at the familiar faces. She soon realizes no one is listening to anyone else.

She laments, "Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it? Every, every minute."

The answer to Emily's cry is never given and resides individually in each reader or member of the audience.

Frank Capra directed the beloved Christmas film classic, "It's a Wonderful Life," which some dismiss as a saccharine and overly sentimental film. Many, however, count this film among their all-time favorites.

Capra portrays a bleak picture of small town life that is run on incompetence and greed. The central character, George Bailey, does not fit in and will not exploit others for personal gain. Depressed and on the verge of suicide, he considers himself a failure.

Memorably acted by James Stewart, the tenderhearted George has always put helping others before his own personal advancement. When worldly opportunities arise for George, something always intervenes to which he gives more attention. It takes a guardian angel to convince George his life has not been a failure.

"It's a Wonderful Life" captures the nobility of ordinariness. George, like many others, has missed some opportunities for success as defined by the world by caving to responsibility, but it could not have been otherwise, given his character and ours. This was an individual who actually practiced what many preach.

Charles Dickens's classic, "A Christmas Carol," has had so many incarnations since he wrote the serialized story more than 100 years ago. As children, my brothers and I were addicted to watching "The Million Dollar Movie," a television show on which the same film was repeatedly shown, night after night and hour after hour. The holiday film was invariably the 1951 version of "A Christmas Carol," starring the British actor Alastair Sim as Ebenezer Scrooge.

We never tired of seeing cantankerous old Scrooge have his heart melted as the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future open his eyes as to how his behavior has impacted the lives of others. The transformation Scrooge undergoes is a tale of redemption available to anyone at any age.

The message the Wilder play, the Capra film and Dickens short story put forth never goes out of style. It only goes out of mind, perhaps, as the New Year begins, and most of us settle into the mundane tasks that take up so much time.

Perhaps one resolution could be to make a mantra of Emily Webb's haunted lament from the dead — "Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it? Every, every minute."