Volume 2:1 Winter, 2006-'07


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Seattle Light - Winter - "Little Boxes"



Whenever I fly into San Francisco airport and drive north through the hillsides of tract homes towards the city, I start singing the 1960’s folk song, “Little Boxes,” and inform anyone within earshot that Malvina Reynolds’ ode to conformity was written while driving through that particular bit of California development. Imparting trivia is one of life’s simple pleasures. The story is that the song came on suddenly, like a heart attack or the 24-hour flu. She had her husband take over the wheel, grabbed pen and paper and proceeded to immortalize Daly City as the poster child for homogeneity. The song is catchy in the way that the ocean is wet - three days later I have to listen to Led Zeppelin to get the tune out of my head......


Click on New Column (above) to continue reading Julia Quiring's essay, Little Boxes .


The Movies

Coming Soon - NLR's List of the best movies of all time!

Winter Review :


The Stories That Change Our Lives

   One man's life touches so many others, when he's not there it leaves an awfully big hole.
- Henry Travers (Clarence, Angel 2nd Class) in Frank Capra's "It's A Wonderful Life."

 Phillip_van_doren_sternAbout seventy years ago, Phillip Van Doren Stern had a dream which ended up transforming our lives. All of us dream, but Stern decided to do something with the images that danced through his head on that morning in the 1930s after he awoke. He began to pen a short story. He put it aside for awhile, then finished the story at the height of World War II in 1943. He called his 4000-word effort "The Greatest Gift."
    No publisher would buy it, so Stern (photo at left) made 200 copies at his own expense and gave them to friends as Christmas gifts.  His story ended up become one of the most popular films ever...   

   It's very unlikely that you've ever heard of this author that enhanced the quality of your Christmas experience, because Frank Capra gets most of the credit for the way he took Stern's story and transformed it into one of the finest films in history - "It's A Wonderful Life." Indeed, you're probably a lot more familiar with the film's star, JImmy Stewart, then you are with the people who thought up the story and wrote Stewart's lines. Yet the story itself is what has spoken to caregivers through the film made sixty years ago.
Bedford_falls    Caregivers who choose to take a couple hours over the holidays to enter the world of George Bailey and the snow-covered town of Bedford Falls will always be rewarded with a life-enriching message. They will see Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed lasso each other's hearts (and ours) again. We will all have the chance to wonder, like the star, what would have happened if we had never lived and to tip our hearts to the man who gave us this eternal story.
    That is the magic of the best stories that emerge in books and on the screen around Christmas. When Charles Dickens hatched Ebenezer Scrooge he gave us all the chance to reflect on our personal legacies. Will we be remembered as misers who hoarded our money and made life miserable for those around us? Or will we choose to enter the Christmas spirit year-round bringing joy and good will to strangers and friends alike?
 Ebenezer_scrooge   Will we nurture the hope of "Miracle on 34th Street" or will be scoff at Santa Claus as nonsense?
    Beyond any of these tales, what is our life story? The turning point for George Bailey came at his lowest point when he stands on that famous little bridge and contemplates suicide because he feels like his life is a failure.
    I have a dear friend who is struggling  in much the same way this holiday season. The wife he dearly loves no longer loves him. A marriage approaching twenty years is on the verge of ending. Distraught, this devoted husband, a caregiver in a large hospital, has begun to wonder about the meaning of his own life.
    In the middle of depression, its difficult to envision the kind of happy ending that routinely caps the movie classics. When other people tell my friend to snap out of it, he becomes more depressed because he wonders why he can't. When they predict happier days ahead, it intensifies the darkness he feels right now.
    My friend has brought joy and energy to the lives of so many through his caregiving efforts. Its likely you have benefited from his work but if I told you how, I might reveal his identity. Instead, I hope you will offer prayers for him and for all those who may have lost sight of how their lives have helped so many.
Clarence    George Bailey is lucky enough to have Clarenece, his Guardian Angel, appear in person to take him on a literal journey to show what the world would have been like if he had never lived. To the star's surprise, he discovers countless happy consequences of his best life efforts and experiences dismay when the people who are dear to him don't know him because he never lived.
    The power of the story is its extraordinary ability to help us engage the gift of gratitude. George Bailey's life matters after all, he discovers, just as does yours. If you had never lived, the particular kind gestures you have made to help others would never have been made. You are a gift to the world and your life is sacred.
    Caregivers transform the lives of all they encounter. Your love flows out to fill the dark hole of another's need. Without it, our lives are emptied of meaning. With it, our lives - yours and mine - are redeemed.
    Because of Stern's story,  Frank Capra found the chance to create a timeless film that is a happy part of millions of lives. Jimmy Stewart, Donna Reed and dozens of others in the film are as much a part of our consciousness as if they were old friends which, in an important way, they are.
    For Christians, the greatest story ever told is, of course, the life of the one whose birth gave rise to Christmas. Jesus's example and teachings inform and enrich the lives of billions.
    Perhaps that is one reason George Bailey's existence is so inspiring. He experiences a sort of death and resurrection on the screen, telling all of us that our lives are more meaningful than we can possibly imagine.
    On man sits down in 1943 to pen a single short story. He makes copies for 200 friends. That solitary story has become known to easily over one hundred million. A sort of caregiver himself,   Stern, who passed away at age eighty-four in 1984, could not possibly have imagined this kind of impact.
    There are countless people out there whose lives you have touched and made better with your love. You will touch some lives today, and more tomorrow, with the gift of light that flows through you. Thank you for your wonderful life.

-Erie Chapman


More Gifts from "It's A Wonderful Life"

Wonderfulgeorgemary1 Jimmy Stewart (George): What do you want, Mary? Do you want the moon? If you want it, I'll throw a lasso around it and pull it down for you. Hey! That's a pretty good idea! I'll give you the moon, Mary.
Donna Reed (Mary Hatch Bailey): I'll take it! Then what?
Jimmy Stewart (George): Well, then you can swallow it, and it'll all dissolve see, and the moonbeams would shoot out of your fingers and your toes and the ends of your hair... am I talking too much?
Henry Travers (Clarence): Remember George, No man is a failure who has friends. 









The Underrating of Groundhog Day

By Erie Chapman

  There is no way this winter is ever going to end as long as that groundhog keeps seeing his shadow. Phil (Bill Murray) in Groundhog Day.

Groundhog Day (1993)

Story & Screenplay: Danny Rubin

Director: Harold Ramis

Starring Bill Murray as Phil & Andie MacDowell as Rita

   I'm not saying it's the greatest film of all time. I'm just saying that this brilliant comedy should be taken more seriously than it is. I'm also saying that this is as joyful and renewing a movie as that other more highly ranked favorite, It's a Wonderful Life.

   Including television, I've seen thousands of movies. Maybe you have too. One of the questions we can all ask ourselves is: Which movies become a part of our lives? The folks from this film, and their story, have become a part of mine.

   Beneath the laughs (and there are waves of them) this is, of course, a story of resurrection, a story that tells us that we don't get to heaven until we live our lives the right way - and we don't find joy on earth until we live with loving intention. AnyHindu or Buddhist focused on incarnation could resonate with this message, not to mention Christians, Moslems, or people of almost any faith.

   But religious dogma is way too heavy and tiresome a message to lay on a moviegoer. After all, we bought a ticket to entertainment, not to a sermon. And that's a big reason why this film is one of the most enjoyable ever.

   What's unfortunate is that so many walk away from a first viewing of this film with the idea that it's only about a guy that gets stuck living the same day over and over again until he finally gets the girl. This is like saying that the Simpsons is about a fat guy that eats too much or that Seinfeld is about four friends that make lots of jokes.

   In classical allegorical fashion, Groundhog Day engages the mythology of Dante's descent as Bill Murray, in an effort to escape the hell of being caught in the same day, commits the whole list of deadly sins. And as long as he "sins" he is stuck, like the groundhog, seeing his shadow and living the same day over and over.

   By my calculation, he lives through hundreds and hundreds of days of doing the wrong thing - including repeatedly trying to kill himself..

Phil: I've been stabbed, shocked, poisoned, frozen, hung, electrocuted, and burned.

Rita: Oh, really?
Phil: Every day I wake up without a scratch on me, not a dent in the fender... I am an immortal.

   Here, of course, is the original sin of pride. On top of this, the movie suggests that Phil indulges in every physical joy he can think of. With the discreteness of good filmmaking we pick up (without seeing all the details) that Bill eats what he wants, sleeps with whoever he wants, steals money and, in essence, tries to play God (except that he forgets the main ideat: the love part.)    

   During his period of "immortality" Murray learns a few useful things including how to play the piano, some 18th century French poety (his girlfiend's favorite), what he needs to do to save a homeless man's life and when to catch a boy falling from a tree.

   But the only thing he learns that truly matters is that the pathway out of hell is paved not with good intentions but with good and loving acts. If you seen the movie, ask yourself this question: how does Murray escape into the next day and the rest of his life?

   The answer is that he fills an entire day doing loving things for other people. Does he have a personal agenda? Like any human being, he does. Yes, he wants to win the heart of the beautiful Rita (Andie MacDowell). And that becomes his earthly reward. By giving love, he wins the love of his life during his earthly life. Yet beyond romantic love, we can see that deeper redemption comes through actions grounded in loving intention. 

  At the end of the film, Rita and Phil gaze out at the snowy world:

Rita: It's beautiful. I don't know what to say.
Phil: I do. Whatever happens tomorrow, or for the rest of my life, I'm happy now... because I love you.

   Now what could be a happier ending then that?