Dave Kitchell: It's a wonderful life for exiting columnist
Thursday, January 15, 2015 11:36 AM
LOGANSPORT – For many of us, there isn’t a Christmas season that goes by without about 90 minutes spent sitting, watching an American classic.
“It’s a Wonderful Life” rekindles the era of hand-wrapped boxes with gifts from downtown department stores in county seats all over the country. It evokes a spirit of what real American community is and the notion that when a friend needs you, you’ll be there for them, and vice versa. But the one thing about “It’s a Wonderful Life” that makes me want to watch it over and over again is that vision of what the fictional community of Bedford Falls would be like without our protagonist, Jimmy Stewart. In the Dickensian spirit of allowing someone to look into the future, Jimmy’s character is afforded a view of what life in his community would be like without him. It’s a humbling thing for Jimmy, who sees his wife, played by Donna Reed, alone in the world. He sees his home dark and deserted. And perhaps most troubling is that his community has slipped into an economic and social abyss.
Just one person, the real Christmas story tells us, can make a difference. One solitary life – in Bethlehem, Israel, or Bethlehem, Pa., – can make a difference. For that matter, one life can make a difference just about anywhere, particularly in small cities that far outnumber the metropolitan areas of this nation.
Sometimes that one person is you.
It should be a humbling thought for all of us to think about what our families, our neighborhoods and our communities would be like without us. That should make us all keep us from taking things for granted. And at this time of the year when we’re often reminded that it’s gluttonous to want things instead of giving things, “It’s a Wonderful Life” is a teachable moment for us all. The message it sends is that it’s good to want more if “more” is defined as giving more to your family, your community and ultimately the world.
This one time of the year is a grand ambassador for the altruism of unselfish giving. Too often we think of what we “gave at the office” as the metaphor for what we gave in taxes. There’s no gluttony associated with community service. In fact, we even sentence people to do it because we hold that concept in high regard, even if we don’t offer civics as a course in schools anymore. We have Make A Difference Days, Live United days and service learning projects in schools, but real community service is that part of the American dream that reaches beyond what we have to do in our communities to what we want our communities to become.
Too often in my 25-year career as a reporter and editor, I saw “public officials” who weren’t really “public servants,” and it saddens me to say that in a country that values, and is valued worldwide, for how it defines democracy, there are too many “public officials” who aren’t “public servants.”
To that end, I’m suspending my journalism career to pursue public service because there are times when bystanders can’t be bystanders. There are times, as it says in Ecclesiastes, for just about everything. If we were revising the Bible for the 21st century, that chapter of Ecclesiastes might include the words, “a time to serve.”
For me, that time is now.
For those who read the words of then Gov. Mitch Daniels a few years ago when he remarked about teachers doing union work on school time, it may be disconcerting to reflect now on the fact that our former state school superintendent and his staff did campaign work while they were employed to work for the public. No charges are pending, but laws, as one review has determined, were clearly broken. Who holds that person accountable? So far, no one. Not Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller, who sounds more like he’s a candidate running for Congress than an attorney general looking out for the public good. Not federal authorities who must be looking the other way because it’s only state government. Not Marion County officials who wash their hands of it by saying, “It’s a state matter” even though most of us who break laws and are caught doing it pay fines, court costs and even serve time. It appears that justice in our state is blindfolded not out of fairness, but out of fear of doing jobs that have to be done.
The late Rev. Martin Luther King once said something provocative that would have resonated with Jimmy Stewart’s character in “It’s a Wonderful Life” – “The time is always right to do the right thing.”
The time for all of us, regardless of political affiliation, is always right. The time to serve is always right. The time to feel good about wanting more for our communities, our counties, our state and our nation is always right, even if we live in the greatest nation in the world. In a sense, that notion of “wanting more” is what got us here. I fear that if we think we can take that for granted, a flag alone won’t keep us here. The things the flag represents will.
There is a time for people to serve in Bedford Falls, and in Logansport, the city where I live. That’s why I’m running for mayor of a third class city in Indiana.
One person can make a difference, even a mayor.
It’s my hope and prayer that one person will make a difference in all your lives in 2015.
Kitchell will run as a Democrat for Logansport mayor.