Monday, December 21, 2009

Not Just For Children

Chef Gustav's motto: Anyone can cook!

I think my favorite scene in the Pixar film Ratatouille, is the one in which the restaurant critic, Anton Ego, takes a bite of ratatouille and is transported back to his childhood. It's this experience that renders him capable of accepting the fact that the chef is a rat, not a human. If his senses had not been engaged and then coupled with imagination and memory, I doubt he would have been so receptive.

The theme, a return to childhood, is a recurring one in many films and stories related to the Holidays. From Ebeneezer Scrooge to Scott Calvin (The Santa Clause), characters are placed in situations that force them to consider how far they've drifted from their potentially very best selves. Even taken as entertainment, they raise serious existential questions: What would my life be like if I had or had not done ______? Has my living made any difference? Why am I here at all?

What brings these issues into sharp relief is usually a crisis, the resolution of which requires not a little bit of self-examination. George Bailey's Uncle Billy misplaces an important bank deposit on Christmas Eve. Losing his visitation rights forces Scott Calvin to question what he truly believes. Scrooge is confronted by the reality of death. Redemption begins as each one takes a long, hard, and usually long overdue, look at himself.

I think we love stories like these because they allow us to experience redemption vicariously and in so doing, remind us it's never too late to recapture the person we would like most to have become. True, we might not get to be Santa Claus, but we can give unselfishly. We can't turn back the clock, no matter how badly we may wish to, but we can still love. Maybe we haven't found the cure for cancer, but that doesn't diminish the significance of what we have accomplished.

We look to children at this time of year, whether their eyes reflect candles burning in a Menorah or the lights on a tree, because we were once like them. Life was full of anticipation and our prospects seemed unlimited. We want to know that we haven't outgrown being infused with the spirit of possibility and that believing is meaningful even if it contradicts common sense. Someone once said, Christmas (or whatever Holiday you celebrate) is for children. If that's the case, then it's truly for each one of us because, as adults, we need it all that much more.


(Free Art Licensed image of Chef Gustav via Wikipedia)
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