Day 18 of Christmas Nightlight Readings: The Greatest Gift
"The Greatest Gift" is a short story by Philip Van Doren Stern about a man, by the name of George Pratt, who stands upon a bridge on Christmas Eve ready to commit suicide. It is there he meets a shabbily dressed, yet astute gentleman, and tells him that he wishes that he was never born. The gentleman says that he has got his wish and to go door to door as a brush salesman selling brushes. Everyone he meets does not know him. At his wife's house her husband shoos him away and when he goes to his childhood home he finds that his younger brother died in a drowning accident. He soon realizes that everyone he meets has been changed in a negative way because he was never born, so he returns to the bridge to wish that he had been born and that none of this ever happened. When he returns home to find his wife waiting for him, he embraces her and tells her that he is so happy that he never lost her. As he hugs her, he knocks a brush off the couch and realizes that the brush was one that he had given her earlier.
Sound familiar? Stern wrote the little story after a dream in the 1930s, but only printed 20 copies by 1943, passing out the copies to friends on Christmas. His story soon got out and RKO Productions' director showed it to Cary Grant who was interested in taking the lead and making it into a film. In 1945 Frank Capra bought the rights and adapted it into the movie we all know and love today "It's a Wonderful Life." Of course it was George Bailey in the movie instead of George Pratt, played by none other than Jimmy Stewart. And the man who visited him at the bridge was Clarence the angel who was trying to 'earn' his wings.
“To study history is to study the motives, the opinions, and the passions of men in order to know all the successes, the initiatives and the detours, and finally all the illusions that they make known to the mind and the surprises that they make the heart feel. In a word, it is to learn to known oneself in others.”—Jean Mabillon, 15th c. Benedictine scholar.