Stephen, how thoughtful of you, and as luck or synchronicity would have it, I just thinking about posting something and your message showed up on my email. Where I live last Christmas started off with a bombing downtown that took out half a city block; and indeed, several horrific ecological events have happened since then; (one was a flood, and the other a tornado), that have recently served as a reminder of how fragile life can be where a person can lose everything they have and still must go living.
So, what does this have to do with Christmas which is generally a joyous and happy occasion one might ask? Well, perhaps a lot of things as many stories that are told often inform us around this time of year. Two, I mentioned above from last year which are: Charles Dicken’s: “A Christmas Carol”; and the other was a movie that became a Christmas classic called: “It’s a wonderful life”; both deal with personal identity trauma where the individual is forced to confront that the way they have interpreted their life no longer fits the inner demands that are being called forth as a mirrored reflection that no longer works; and a drastic change is called for to meet this inner requirement that now must be met and wrestled with and assimilated so that a new way of living can be born anew.
Tragedies, traumas, catastrophes, calamities, and disasters may all vary by application and degree, but one thing they all have in common is they summon forth within the individual character what is within them to meet their challenge or ordeal that is required and must be dealt with to move forward. Now in the mythic realm the two summons or calls in these two stories present themselves in the form of visitations from guiding spirits who are to help advise them on what they are experiencing as the world they thought they once knew which is no longer the reality they are now asked to transcend and become another dimension of who they are meant to be. In other words, the soul within is demanding to be heard in the form of this experience the guiding spirit is describing; and the individual must make a choice on whether to accept the challenge and transform, or to deny the challenge and become a victim of their own inner demons.
There is a very insightful line in: “It’s a wonderful Life” that is a major pivot point to the entire plot in which Clarence, George Baily’s Guardian Angel reveals: “you’ve been given a great gift George, and that is the ability to see what your life would have been like if you had never been born” and follows that insight with another: “each life touches so many” and together these lines drive the entire rest of the experience. We are each an agent in one form or another that affects not only our own life, but the lives of others life as well, and that you can make a choice on whether to participate in this grand opera of joyful sorrow and sorrowful joy that all life (is); or accept the robotic safety of the wasteland and with that lose the heart’s inner song that’s been waiting to be awakened and sung.
Fortunately for the hero at the end of both tales they accept the message that has been offered and are transformed into a new sense of awareness that this “wonder-filled landscape” has been there waiting all along within the life they have already been living; instead of the nightmare they have been experiencing. But they have now been awakened to a new since of possibility within their own character to bring this awareness to life.
So, what does all this have to do with Joseph’s themes about myth and the individual? Well, he asks: “What would sustain me in the face of total disaster so that I could go on living and not crackup and quit.” If I came home and found my wife and children murdered, my house gone and losing everything thing I have, what would serve this function for me? I think all you have to do to get a sense of this right now is to turn on the news and to witness the devastation that Covid is causing; to see global conflicts of all sorts raging across the planet, to see immigrants and refugees desperately seeking some sort of asylum, to see homelessness and violence and crime with no end in sight. But what does all this have to do with Christmas you might ask?
At the end of the movie George realizes what he actually has and asks to return to the life he was living but with a renewed sense of awareness that within and behind the foreground of life’s difficulty lies the meaning and purpose of much we have been searching for. Saying that however it would be a mistake to think of this simplistic example as a one-size-fits-all solution to much of the world’s suffering and pain we witness every day, and indeed within our own individual circumstances. But that is not the point, and the answer herein I think lies within our ability to see and interpret our life within the context of what it presents to us; not something taken concretely, but metaphorically. In other words, we should ask ourselves: “What is my life defined by, and how do I respond to it?” And that by changing our perception, sometimes changing the world really means changing ourselves. So that when Joseph says: “The world is a mess, it’s always been a mess, and you are not going to change that.” He doesn’t mean don’t participate in the game; get in there and do your part if you feel that is your calling. But the answers you may be seeking may be coming from your own insides. And I think this is the takeaway message from these two Christmas stories.