“It’s Christmas Eve! For a couple of hours out of the whole year, we are the people that we always hoped we would be…” –Frank Cross, Scrooged
The holidays are here, and with them, the need to haul out the crates of decorations and outfit our homes with garish Yuletide cheer. And of course, holiday movies are all placed by the TV with care, in hopes that our toddler won’t smash our stemware.
It is during this season that I was reminded that one of the best things about military life is also one of the worst things about military life.
Every few years, military families uproot and move around the country or the world. We get to see things that nobody ever gets to see and live in places that few of our peers have ever even visited. We soak up unspeakably tremendous experiences and cultivate friendships all over the globe.
And then, after a hard fought, halting struggle to learn the ways of Texans or the language of Germans, it’s time to say goodbye. To move on. To close one chapter and begin another. With predictable regularity, PCS orders cause those friendships and experiences to evaporate into the mist. Folks that became indispensable in your life, cherished fellow travelers on our military journey, were gone forever.
I was reminded of this during a recent glut of family movie nights. Oh, we have the same movies you do. Just like you, we can recite entire scenes from A Christmas Story and Elf. But it was a throwaway line in Bill Murray’s 1988 comedy Scrooged that reminded me that this is a great time to send out some good thoughts to all of those folks who shaped all of those great memories in all of those far-flung places.
Scrooged culminates with curmudgeonly Frank Cross interrupting a live performance of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol to deliver a manic monologue about the joys of the season. He’s seen the mess he’s made of his own life and the miseries he’s inflicted on others’. His rant against selfishness and boorish behavior along with his celebration of the joy of generosity—the generosity of spirit as well as the generosity of “stuff”—is certainly one my own favorite Christmas movie moments. The film is a reminder that human beings need miraculous moments, the kind of miracles that happen to people and the kind of miracles that happen in people’s lives. Small gestures, effortless kindnesses, treasured relationships…these are the minor miracles in which Murray’s character rejoices. Scrooged, as with any other iteration of A Christmas Carol, is a story of rejoicing. To “re-joy”: To reacquaint yourself with joy. To rediscover those dormant feelings of elation and effusion. To re-familiarize yourself with those feelings of profound gratitude. To rejoice is to celebrate a reawakening of delight.
And that’s one of the great things about joy…it’s highly contagious. True joy is not a hidden feeling; it spills out and infects all those around you. Joy snowballs. Joy creates inertia. So when you rejoice, you set in motion an avalanche of goodwill and cheer.
But in addition to getting involved in others’ lives, donating old blankets or offering sandwiches, one of the ways Murray suggests we celebrate the season is to reach out to “an old Army buddy.”
When you reach out, you tell the people who once meant a great deal to you that their place in your memory is secure. You remind them of their significance in your life. That they were and are important to you. You remind them that they are remembered and that their legacy in your life is still alive. That they haven’t been forgotten.
Whatever your holiday budget is this year, conveying your sense of appreciation and gratitude to an old military friend easily fits that budget. If we’re to believe the very non-holiday film, Troy, perhaps the greatest military warrior in all of human history, Achilles, seems to have been motivated by just one thing: he fights so that people will remember his name. He fights for Greece and for his brothers, yes. But mostly, his driving motivation was to ensure that his legacy would echo throughout millennia. Because when we remember certain people, we honor them. Remembering is a form of reverence and gratitude. Every one of us craves a life of significance; we all want to know that our lives mean something. I can’t think of a better gift to give this holiday season than to offer someone the sense that they mattered. That they made a mark. That the significance of their life is the joy they brought to yours.
This holiday season, take a page from Troy and a line from Scrooged: Reach out. Resuscitate a dormant friendship. Mend fences. Make a call, send an e-mail. Skype. Facebook.
Staying connected with people has never been easier. Just a generation ago, you would never be able to stay up to date or in touch with those distant military friends. So embrace the spirit of the season. Let someone know that you’re grateful…not just to them, but for them. For what you did together, for what they brought to your life…and for what they did to secure their place as a luminous star in your personal constellation of Stellar People.