This Christmas, my wife purchased me a book entitled The Greatest Gift, written by Philip Van Doren Stern. While I was unfamiliar with the book at first, I would soon come to understand and appreciate the sentimentality of her gift.
Stern spent much of his literary career as an editor and Civil War historian. But around 1938, the story of The Greatest Gift came to him in a dream – outlined from start to finish with incredible clarity. The only trouble was Stern had never composed a work of fiction before.
He worked tirelessly capturing the plot from his subconscious, and by 1943 he finally completed the project, which amounted to the length of a short story. From GoodReads, it’s a, “tale about a man named George Pratt who ponders suicide until he receives an opportunity to see what the world would be like without him”. Sound familiar to anyone?
Unable to find a publisher for his first work of fiction, Stern decided to self-publish the book and circulated the printed copies to some 200 family members, friends, neighbors and colleagues as a kind of seasonal Christmas card.
Well, one of those cards managed to find its way into the hands of director Frank Capra, who shared it with a very intrigued friend named Jimmy Stewart. The short story that Stern created, and couldn’t find a publisher for, went on to become the basis for the cherished holiday classic It’s A Wonderful Life.
My wife and I own and faithfully watch It’s A Wonderful Life not just at Christmas time, but all year long. It serves as a reminder that our lives touch so many other lives in ways often unknown to us. That whether it be five minutes or five years, our presence in this life is impactful and meaningful.
Sadly, not everyone is a fan of It’s A Wonderful Life. It’s taken me some time, but I now think I understand why.
At its core, the theme of the film is quite simple really. As long as you’re surrounded by family and friends – even just a handful – your life truly is wonderful.
But that’s not how society measures success and failure today. Our successes are believed to be linked to material possessions, wealth, traveling the globe, youth, beauty and career achievements.
“Things” which bring nothing more than momentary fulfillment and perhaps a glimmer of happiness. For no matter how many successes we have in this life, they would all be meaningless if we didn’t have someone to share them with.
As the new year approaches, re-watch It’s A Wonderful Life and resolve to finally make time for the amazing people in your life that are so often forgotten. For if you haven’t already learned, they truly are the greatest gift.