Wednesday, December 20, 2006

A Novel Idea

Just finished watching the DVD of “Miracle on 34th Street” with my wife and 9 year old daughter. She kept asking if Kris Kringle really was Santa in the movie, and I kept telling her to watch because I didn’t want to give away the ending. I assume the point of the movie is that Edmund Gwen played the part of the real Santa Claus, and the cane leaning against the fireplace proved he really came down the chimney of the house that little Natalie Wood wanted. Natalie Wood drowned in 1981, at age 43—she would be 68 now.

A distant cousin I haven’t seen in years died last week at age 68. She was a mother and grandmother, and I don’t know how good Santa treated her every Christmas, but she was remembered by her loving family as a good mother and grandmother, and wife. Since we’re all going to be dead someday, it’s nice that some of us will be well-remembered. Not all of course—some are on Santa’s naughty list. Although Craig Fergeson admitted on his TV show, while composing a letter to Santa, that while he was naughty, it was worth it.

I love the movie “Miracle on 34th Street” because it shows the cynical bastards all getting shown up by the kindness of strangers. Good payoffs are the glory of old Hollywood. Now the good payoffs seem corny and out of place. One of the great classic films of the last 40 years is “All the Presidents’ Men,” in which the big scene at the end shows the two guys typing about the fraud of Nixon’s cronies, and the last thing you see is that Nixon resigned within two years of being elected in the biggest landslide of all time. Not exactly an upbeat Hollywood ending, but a nice payoff—for the two guys.

The trouble with “Miracle on 34th Street” is its premise—there is a positive spirit in humanity and the idea of Santa Clause is its personification. Since Santa is only for children, then the positive human spirit must be a childish thing, which is divested in maturity in order to take on the world in all of its horrendous reality. That’s why we know at the end that these neat things only happen in the movies.

Last night Deepak Chopra was a guest on the Colbert Report and I watched to see how Deepak would enlighten the Steven Colbert comically conservative and earthly-grounded Bill O’Reilly knock off character, especially since the average political guest is generally taken to the cleaners by the over-the-top and hold-no-prisoners Colbert. Chopra didn’t get much of a chance to “enlighten,” but he did keep his position about physical reality vs. spiritual truth, and I was not disappointed in the performance. Chopra was selling his book about the afterlife, and when Colbert asked who would want to read it, Chopra simply said “anyone who’s going to die.”

My dad and I are still chewing over whether Roosevelt let the Pearl Harbor attack happen, in order to get the US into the war against Hitler, who had an actual chance of occupying Europe without a major opposing force, and who was a threat to life as we came to know it in these United States. Roosevelt said only fear was to be feared. I’m afraid he was right. Death is inevitable, and the struggle between birth and death is a mere interruption between eternal unconsciousness on both ends. So what’s top be afraid of, unless being uncomfortable, in pain, or missing loved ones like the families whose relatives are in the military in Iraq or anywhere else on earth this holiday season, is scaring you. These issues are, after all, ephemeral and shed along with the mortal coil etc…

Gore Vidal was asked by Tavis Smiley on his interview show two weeks ago about the “big exit” looming for the great writer and octogenarian. Vidal simply explained he didn’t mind not being born, and he didn’t think being dead would be any different, so it was no problem for him.

The other issue with “Miracle on 34th Street” is that it is a typical Hollywood fairy tale, in that it is easier to believe that Kris Kringle is Santa than it is to believe that John Payne would have quit his job at the law firm over principles, or that Mr. Macy (was there really a “Mr. Macy?”) would have said he believed Kringle was Santa and on and on. Besides, everyone knows, as I was informed at age 8 by my friend down the street—the parents buy the presents.

You think I’m going to end this on the note that our parents are really Santa Clause and how thankful we should all be—after all it’s one of the commandments in Torah—Honor Your Father and Mother. Doesn’t say love and obey them—just “honor,” whatever that distinction means.

The old story goes that some 4000 years ago in what is now Iraq, a young man lived with his tribe and he came to a novel conclusion. He decided that the idols his parents and friends worshipped could not be his creator, and he thought about a single invisible god who created everything and everyone. The legend goes that he conversed with this unseen entity, and was informed that if he led a proper life, and continued to only worship this invisible god, this god would reward him with territory and food and shelter not only for his lifetime, but for all of his lineage to come.

Along with this man, known in the Torah as Abraham, part of his family tree brought forth an influential prophet, Muhammad, 2600 years later, whose line became hundreds of times more numbered than the original descendants of Abraham, who were Jews. And of course one of the Jewish descendants of Abraham, Jesus, around 2000 years after Abraham, was thought to have enlightened teachings and his followers also grew in numbers and became a divergent culture from Abraham’s and Muhammad’s. Today, there is plenty of strife between these groups, yet they all claim to worship the same invisible god, and they don’t worship idols. Why they fight between each other proves that humanity is really more fearful than anything, even though we know there is nothing to fear.

The question that came to me after the movie tonight, “Miracle on 34th Street,” is not whether Santa Clause is real, but whether every person on this planet will ever understand that he and she are one with every other person on the same small planet, just as they all worship one god. Forget who’s naughty or nice—as Craig Fergeson said on his show last week, let the judgmental old fat bastard keep his toys. As for me—I’ll rest my faith with the eternal spirit of humanity: Abraham came up with a clever idea, thinking out of the box, so to speak. Why can’t we all just get along?

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