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.