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