I’m a little more sad than happy this holiday season. The family I grew up with is nowhere near: two brothers and my mother are in southern California, while my sister is in South Carolina. Dad, I hope, is watching over us all. Two of my colleagues lost their mothers within the last two weeks; my sister-in-law and friend just sat by her father’s side yesterday while he took his final breath, and I just visited friends in town who are facing their first Christmas without their mother and wife, who lost her battle with ovarian cancer in August.

Though we all know that loss is a part of life, we are still shocked and deeply saddened when it arrives on our doorstep, especially around the holidays when we are supposed to be happily busy: shopping, wrapping, eating, singing and celebrating.

I am not sure what to do about any of this, but I am trying to celebrate the season anyway. Although my students want to watch movies like “A Christmas Story” or “Elf” before the holiday break, I insist on showing “It’s a Wonderful Life,” as it just so happens to fit into the time period we are studying in American Literature. I am still stunned that only three of 40 kids have even heard of this movie that is a Christmas Eve tradition in my house.

They grumble a little when they see that it’s in black and white, but I make them pay attention to every scene in the beginning so they understand the end. It’s long, so I worry about the number of days and the time it will take.

But when the bell rings in the end, and I hear clapping and see crying around the room, I know it has been worth it. In one class, a failing and especially disengaged student says, “I’m gonna buy that movie” and I smile quietly to myself.

Yesterday, I volunteered at the Preble Street soup kitchen for the first time. There, in the big gray building, amidst the homeless, was joy. Mary welcomed me with a “thank you hon” and put me to work.

As I was setting salt and pepper shakers on the tables, an older man handed me a piece of cardboard with pinecones and red berries glued to it saying, “Here. I made this for you.” It was beautiful and became a lovely centerpiece for one of the tables. As Shirley and I served desserts and replenished trays through lunch, we shared in many smiles and holiday wishes.

This is not the first and won’t be the last holiday where pain is mixed with joy. Though families are scattered and disrupted by unfortunate circumstances, we celebrate anyway. To celebrate is to honor: those who are here and those we miss dearly.

As Clarence from “It’s a Wonderful Life” reminds us every year, “Each man’s life touches so many other lives.” What a shame it would be to miss the wonder of it all.

— Special to the Telegram