The 1947 holiday movie classic Miracle on 34th Street opens on Thanksgiving Day with the character Doris Walker, played by the recently deceased actress Maureen O’Hara, finding a last minute substitute for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade Santa Claus with a white bearded man who calls himself “Kris Kringle” (Edmund Gwen). Apparently, the original Santa she hired was too drunk to carry out his duties. A month later, Kris Kringle is put on trial for lunacy because he truly believes that he is “the one and only Santa Claus”. Faced with the seemingly “impossible and impractical” task of defending Kris’ claim, Kris’s attorney and Doris’s suitor Fred Gailey utters the famous statement: “Faith is believing when common sense tells you not to.”
By the end of the film, the faith of all the main characters is renewed. Doris learns to love and trust again after an early bad marriage. Her daughter Susie (Natalie Wood), a little girl who had been raised to not believe in Santa Claus or fairy tales in general because her mother wanted to protect her against future disappointments, learned to believe in Santa Claus. The words “Faith is believing when common sense tells you not to” have resonated with me since the very first time I saw the film. And every year, when I revisit the film, I realize how true those words are. Faith is what sustains us when all tangible evidence presents a negative argument, tells a sad story or predicts a bleak future. In other words, when we have absolutely no reason to believe that “everything will be alright” is when must dig deep into ourselves to find hope.
Sometimes it is hard to have faith and hope. It is easy to become angry and disillusioned when we see the manifestation of hate in horrific acts of violence, such as the recent attacks in Paris which killed 130 people. It is easy to be frightened by the world around us when we have ISIS committing atrocities and Turkey attacking Russia. The situation is further exacerbated by President Barack Obama’s weak foreign policy. As many pundits have said, he continues to lead from behind, a strategy that does not inspire confidence.
It is also easy to become discouraged when you don’t have a job or have to cobble together multiple jobs to make ends meet. While the stated unemployment rate, the U3, is currently 5%, the actual unemployment rate, the U6, which takes into account all those who are underemployed, employed in part-time jobs for economic reasons or have stopped looking, is 9.8%. While those numbers have dropped in the aggregate since 2014, the downward trend in the statistics does not immediately help the person who is unemployed. He only finds solace in the trend if he has faith and can see that a new job is within his horizon. Or what if you have started a new business and you are struggling to make a profit? You had an idea which led you to start the business and you enjoy what you are doing, but your daily receipts or lack thereof label your dream a pipe dream. How do you move forward? How do keep working when it doesn’t feel worth it?
Furthermore, the holiday season can be a very difficult time for those who have lost loved ones. The empty seat at the Thanksgiving table, treasured photos, cards and messages only serve to remind to us that our cherished child, romantic partner, sibling, parent or friend is no longer among the living. How do we deal then with a grief that is so painful that you feel it physically? Many a person who has lost a loved one has spoken about literally crying themselves to sleep. It really does happen. It’s not just an expression.
When we get to the place where everything is dark and there is no ”good news”, that is when we need to find our faith and our gratitude. Some may say, how can I have faith when bad things keep happening? Or why should I be grateful when I have been hurt or wronged? This is the moment when we need to envision the possibility of a brighter day. And it starts with the simple task of being grateful for what you do have. Every single person, no matter how bad off they are, can find at least one thing to be grateful for. Professing gratitude is the first step towards finding hope and having faith.
Once we have faith and gratitude, anything is possible. So when we sit down for a holiday dinner, it is important to count our blessings. For we all have blessings. They are all around us if we know where to look.