Picard and Bergson on Christmas

There is a scene in the movie Star Trek Generations in which Picard the captain of the Enterprise finds himself in the most wonderful Christmas celebration ever depicted in film. It blows It’s a Wonderful Life‘s final scene out of the water. Light snow is falling outside, and a cozy fire is seen on the hearth. An old fashion Christmas tree, standing quietly aglow, decorated with bows and candles, and loaded with presents graces the room with warmth. Young children ask if papa will read to them a Christmas story. In soft light, his wife, a match to the beauty that surounds the evening in form, demeanor, and countinence, tells him dinner is almost ready. It is the prefect recreation of the perfect Christmas. The warmth, the simplicity, family, friends, and the feeling that captures all the elements we identify with the magic of Christmas are in place. Every time I see it I sigh with longing. It’s a combination of childhood wishes, Dickensian merriment, and Celestial Kingdom level family togetherness. You can smell the turkey and peppermint candles.

Picard abandons it all to go grab Captain Kirk and go fist-fight the bad guys.

Why? Because this place is not his place. This story is not his and although we recognize the Christmas he is abandoning would be marvelous if it really were our own story, we understand Picard’s choice because we know it is not his story either. There is a time and place that has meaning for Picard and this is not it. He has to go save his world.

My Christmas Eves as a child were as magical as Picard’s Nexus portrayal. My Swedish Grandfather would pass out presents from a tree decorated with just such old-world charm and enchantment. It was the kind of Christmas in I can’t seem to capture today. Or do I?

Like many of you this Christmas Season, I will be dusting off my copy of Bergson, the grand French philosopher who combined evolution with purpose and direction in a random universe, and reading by the light of deep snow still falling softly.

Bergson recognizes that we are each embedded in complexity. He calls this duration. We exist not just in time and space, but in a field of memory and experience. We cannot be reduced to only quantifiable enumerations that can be represented by a point on a graph (even a very multi-dimensional one). This complexity, or duration, in which we participate, always is unique and different because it occurs in a context that includes memories of our other experiences and those inform and give new meaning to our present experience. This gives life a richness and depth that does not allow a juxtaposition with other people’s experience and the meaning of their lives. We are all unique and cannot be reduced to sum of some set of separately discernible traits. We are mixtures of time, memory, and place. And we must accept that others around us are such entities as well, and sympathize, in the fullest sense of the word, with their complexity—their duration. If we try to reduce others to the simple addition of a bunch of parts, habits, or personality types (or whatever) we are ignoring not only what we want others to recognize in us, but are reducing them to something other than they are. We do them a disservice thereby. ‘So and so are X, Y, and Z.’ disses what they really are. With that reduction of others comes also the temptation to reduce ourselves in the same way. We are harmed when we don’t recognize how wonderfully complex we are and how similarly unique others are. It would be hard to hate anyone, I’m convinced, if we could watch the tape reel of their life unfold. This Christmas I want to bow to such complexities.

In these thoughts about our individual complexity I pause also to remember the birth of a child. This birth touches and combines with my life in such ways as Bergson identifies. I can’t reduce that birth to a story separate from my own. As the birth was so intended, it touches and intertwines with mine and the story of the Savior’s birth becomes part of my story.

Of this I give thanks.


  1. I’ll ignore the meat of your post and respond to, “It was the kind of Christmas in I can’t seem to capture today. Or do I?” I’ve struggled with that since my mission, trying to understand why I can’t seem to recreate the sense of Christmas from my youth.

    The best answer I’ve found so far is that freedom from responsibility is essential to the “Christmas feeling”. It’s knowing that everything is alright, no one is expecting anything of you, and that if you take a few hours (or days) to sit and read a good book, the world won’t fall apart.

    Other people’s Christmas experiences are different from mine (I guess that addresses your words on Bergson), but I believe that peace and freedom from stress are what made Christmas special for me as a child, and what I, as a husband and parent, find much harder to create.

  2. It blows It’s a Wonderful Life’s final scene out of the water.

    This one line has made it impossible for me to read the rest of your post. I just can’t get past it.

  3. Truth is often painful

  4. Dane, I couldn’t agree more. In fact, it’s that peace that seems so missing from every aspect of my life. I feel a constant sense of worry and responsibility about things. If I sit down to read a book in a few minutes it seems my self-imposed demands drive me from it. Peace on Earth would be a nice way to celebrate Christmas.

  5. #1: “I can’t seem to recreate the sense of Christmas from my youth.”
    I get from the Post, we may not be able to “recreate” the past in today’s time and space. But we can “recreate” it in “a field of memory and experience”. I find this just as (or even more) joyful.

  6. Thank you, Steve, for this thought-provoking post.

    Dane, may we recognize our dependence on Him whose birth we celebrate this day and allow that realization to grant us the peace and freedom from stress we used to feel as children.

    May we celebrate his childhood by rediscovering ours – and putting away the stressful counterfeit that the world has built around our childhood celebrations. Our adult responsibilities need not rob us of the magic and wonder of this day, but it requires a conscious decision not present in the days of our youth. Then we simply could experience it; now we must “recreate” it in our own unique circumstances – whether that be surrounded by family or alone.

  7. For me, as important as it is to acknowledge and celebrate the uniqueness of individual duration, equally important is the awareness of how those durations enable connection/intuition/sympathy with others’ (as you noted), and–most importantly–how Christ comprehends and embodies the entire spectrum, the absolute duration, a consciousness bought at incomprehensible price yet shared freely through the medium of the spirit, to the extent we desire it, qualify for it, and are capable of bearing it.

  8. I don’t have words to add to this. To say anything at all would be to reduce the complexity and meaning of this thought to something less than it is.

  9. Steve Evans says:

    How completely awesome. How much better could this post be? None more better, that’s how much.

  10. Mrs. Peacock says:

    I feel I must point out, to those who are unfamiliar with the movie, that Picard is in an alternate universe of sorts, and he can either stay there in that blissful happiness, or return to his real life and save the world. I just don’t want anyone to think that Captain Picard is a scoundrel who would abandon his family.

  11. Two more gifts BCC has given to me this year! Thanks to Steven P and the rest of you as well.

  12. Ray, you said, “Our adult responsibilities need not rob us of the magic and wonder…but it requires a conscious decision”. The church teaches us that the greatest joys in life come from service — serving in our families, in our callings, and in our communities. And it’s true, I have found great emotional rewards through my service. But it’s a qualitatively different joy from the joy of youthful Christmas.

    What I wonder is, does progression into adulthood and responsibility mean that I must give up the joys of my youth in exchange for the joys of maturity? Can I have them both? I hope that I can; it’s not a fight I’m ready to surrender just yet.

    I’m at our society’s age of secondary transition (which is to say that I turn 30 next year). When I look at my peers who are 5 or 10 years older than I am, I see little of lighthearted hope and too much of soul-crushing vocational work. I cannot believe that is the only way. So here’s to the Christmas of youth, here’s to simplicity and complexity in life, here’s to the joy of family and of the restored Gospel, and here’s to wonder and the mystery of the years to come! Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good life!

  13. #12: You need to watch ” A Christmas Carol”. It’s core is about “recreating” the Spirit of Christmas on an adult level.

  14. —What I wonder is, does progression into adulthood and responsibility mean that I must give up the joys of my youth in exchange for the joys of maturity? Can I have them both?

    The greatest thing about parenthood is that you get to experience both the joys of adulthood and the joys of youth through our children’s eyes. I have a twenty four year old son with Down Syndrome, all the struggles and challenges are worth the magic of seeing an adult putting out a plate of cookies for Santa.

    Thanks for a thought provoking post!