The Best, The Worst, and “It’s a Wonderful Life”

Category: Weekly Columns

Clint Eastwood Movie Poster

Thanksgiving has just passed and I hope everyone had a lovely time. I hope everyone actually took some time from the food and the games to actually “give thanks.” I also hope everyone ignored all the political pleas to discuss politics at the Thanksgiving Meal. What a horrible idea and suggestion! But, most of all, I hope and pray that everyone reflected on the blessings in their lives and encouraged their kids to give thanks along with the adults.

The Holiday Season is a very complicated time of the year. On the surface, it seems it should be filled with joy, fun, and family love. Under the surface, we all know that the reality of family get-togethers can bring out lots of emotional wounds, animosities, and other old business. When you add eggnog and other so-called “spirits” into the mix, it’s often the adults who make the biggest fools of themselves.

As parents, we like to imbue tradition into our family lives and create new traditions with and for our children. One of ours is something I heartily recommend as a regular happening, but suggest that it might be especially good to do at a holiday meal. We did this every Friday evening at our Shabbat dinner. First, we lit the candles, and then said the blessing over the wine, the children, and finally the bread, aka challah.

The Best

During the meal that followed we would share our “Bests and Worst.” Note that “worst” is singular, which I’ll explain shortly. In no particular order, we would each take turns sharing the best and the worst things that happened to us in the previous week. There was no limit to the number of “bests,” but we wisely limited the “worsts” to a single one so we’d all get in the habit of looking at the blessings in our lives rather than dwelling on the problems or minor irritations of the week. And, let’s face it: most of them are minor!

When my boys were younger, I’d need to prod their memory about what had happened during the week before. Their world-view was short and often they could only bring up things that happened to them that day. With time, age, and experience, the boys became as seasoned as the adults at sharing and participating in this Sallan tradition.

We extended an invitation to any dinner guests to join in our tradition and I don’t think we ever had a person decline. They’d listen to some of us go first, get the idea, and then volunteer their own experiences.


Perhaps you can bring this tradition to your family? Perhaps you have your own traditions that help celebrate gratitude and reflect on the many blessings most of us share living in the United States and in a time when health and our general welfare is the best in human history.

Do not think I’m a Pollyanna that doesn’t understand the grave problems humanity faces all over the world, in addition to the many challenges we face right here at home. But, during the holidays, it behooves us to try and bring the brightness of life into the room, at the dinner table, and around the Menorah or Christmas tree or at the Thanksgiving meal.

The habit of speaking out about the good in one’s life can help us actually bring this attitude into our hearts and minds. With the repetition of all that blesses us, we might actually believe our good fortune, especially during the times when things may be rough. Let’s face it, all good times and all bad times come and go. Life is not inert. It flows with good and occasional bad. Our choice comes to bear in how we view life – our attitude will guide us to count the positives with greater magnitude than the negatives.

Again, my mantra of parental modeling comes to bear. Mom and Dad show the way in their appreciation of their blessings. We show the way in how we express our gratitude at every family meal and perhaps with greater vigor at the special-occasion meals and holidays.

Frank Capra's Christmas Classic, It's a Wonderful Life

One of my favorite movies of all-time is, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” I am blessed to own two original posters from the movie. I was further blessed to share a cross-country flight many years ago with Frank Capra, the incredible director of that incredible movie, made in 1946.

“It’s a Wonderful Life” was not a hit when it came out. Sometime during the subsequent years it grew in popularity and has emerged as an all-time holiday favorite. The lessons in this movie are so pure and simple in how each one of us can impact the lives of others.

What can you and/or your children do in the coming months to make such an impact on the lives of those around you? Perhaps, this is the time to be “George Bailey?”

It's a Wonderful Life

  • Lady Bren

    First off Happy Hanukkah
    Second should you happen to find one of your posters missing there is absolutely no need to come and check my house
    Lastly ~ Do you remember the poster from the 70’s Children Learn What They Live? I believe that the last generation of parents before us completely forgot that aspect of parenting. I’ll be honest when I screw up as a parent there’s a singsong voice in my head reminding me of those quotes. I’ll also brag that now that my kids are almost no longer teenagers there’s been moments where they’ve actually said complimentary things about how they were raised. Gratitude should be celebrated more than one day a year
    SO Kudos on your traditions

    • Bruce Sallan

      @lady_bren:disqus – I don’t recall that poster! I get the occasional compliment from y older son, too. Maybe they’ll increase in frequency and my younger one might think I have a single wise thought eventually?!

      • Lady Bren

        Now Bruce let’s not get crazy I did say my kids were almost non-teenagers, you think I’ve heard something like this from my 16 year old ~ BAWAHAHAHAHA

  • Eric Coons

    It’s a Wonderful Life is also one of my favorite Movies. Amazing to think we almost lost this classic to a Clerical Error. Can I just Say that I am jealous of the posters and the time spent with Mr. Capra.

    • Bruce Sallan

      You sure can @eric_coons:disqus – did you know that the movie was also “public domain” for years due to another “clerical error!”

      • Eric Coons

        Yes, I did. If it weren’t for local television stations picking it up, it would have faded into obscurity. I just did a small blurb on it over at my blog, thatdarneddad dot com the other day.

  • David Weber

    I agree with the thrust of what you’re writing here.

    Personally, I cannot stand holidays of any kind. It is really a kind of pathological thing with me. The only holidays I like are Thanksgiving and Passover. If I were able to get a “get-out-of-jail-free” for Christmas, I would take it. Valentine’s Day, Fourth of July, you name the holiday, I cannot stand it. I don’t even have strong feelings for my birthday. I like it when someone wishes me well or sends me a card, and I don’t deny my age or that it’s my birthday, but basically, it can come and go and if only a couple of people congratulate me on it, I am OK with that.

    Again, I can’t really explain this, other than the social imposition represented by holidays is in my opinion awful. Take Thanksgiving, for example, a holiday I actually do like. What is the argument in favor of having a special day, and all the attendant hype, for “giving thanks,” when that is something we should learn to do, and be doing, at all times?

    My mother is 97 and one of the times I visit her every year is at Christmas. But when she is gone, that is it for me for Christmas. I already have made a “deal” with Marie, my partner: When my mother is gone, as soon as the semester ends and I have completed the administrative tasks that I must, I am going to take a trip somewhere for three weeks and come home after new year. (Marie is very close to her family–they Iive in another state and she visits them–or we would of course travel together.) The rule is that I will go somewhere she herself doesn’t particularly want to go.

    If I ever became president, I would immediately order the saturation bombing of (War Powers Act, I love you)…oh, I don’t know, Sweden–because why not, what has Sweden ever done for us? Ikea payback, Sven! Then my next executive order would be to eradicate all holidays. “War on Christmas?” You haven’t even begun to see a “war on Christmas,” Fox News! Creches? Not only can you not put them in public space, you can’t put them on your very own front lawn, because maybe I will make a presidential visit to your city, and maybe I’d pass by your house and have to look at your stupid creche. OK, sure, you can go to church for a Christmas mass…but no gifts to be given or received. Valentine’s Day? Imprisonment for anyone who utters the word “chocolate” in public during the month of February. Chocolatiers, you’re done with the foil-covered hearts. Hallmark, you’re out of business.

    I’ve said it before, but it begs repeating: It’s a Wonderful Life is the most dispiriting movie in history. The lessons to be learned from it: (a) it’s OK to give up any shred of sense of self and personal vision in order to do what community pressure grimly forces you to do; (b) you can be 85 years old and still join the U.S. Navy’s air arm (George’s brother looks old enough to be in a veterans’ home); (c ) it is o.k. to give mortgages to people who have no business getting mortgages (didn’t our economy almost collapse because of that?); (d) it’s OK to name a child Zouzou…when she turns 18 or 21, her birthday gift to herself should be a trip to court to legally change her name to Beth or Ned or something innocuous.

    • Bruce Sallan

      Hmmm, David, so how do you REALLY feel?