My wife loves to watch holiday movies. Each Christmas season she watches James Stewart’s 1946 movie “It’s A Wonderful Life.” “Every year, everyone should watch ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ and ‘Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,’” she insists. She watches them because they have a happy ending.

“Life is not like that,” I tell her. Life has lots of ups and downs like rolling hills. It’s full of good days and bad days like a pendulum moving side to side. And the scariest part is we often don’t know where we are on the hills or the swing of the pendulum.

This is the case with Jay Killen, 45, a patient of mine, whom Geoff Calkins, sports columnist for The Commercial Appeal, and I have written about. It was a few weeks before Christmas in 2011 when Jay fell ill with botulism, a disease that happens to 1 in 10 million people. Bad luck. Up to 10 percent of patients die from the disease.

Jay was now paralyzed. He spent months in the ICU barely able to twitch a finger. Friends, family and strangers came and read books to him. Then he went to a rehabilitation hospital where my wife cared for him and then to a nursing home and then again in the ICU with pneumonia, and after that to Atlanta for more rehabilitation. He spent the next two Christmases in the nursing home.

Over the past year he has been at home. But a few months ago he twisted and broke his leg when his wheelchair accidentally went into automatic mode and rammed into the wall. “The leg is fixed, but he has (congestion) now. I have to take him to his primary care doctor,” Amanda, his wife, told me last week.

“How is life?” I asked her.

“He gets out, goes to movies and goes to dinner. He is able to feed himself, to grip, to roll himself in bed and even sit up, which is awesome. But he’s still not able to walk by himself.”

So I asked her what their plans were for this holiday season. “We plan for a quiet Christmas at home, time with the family.” Then her voice faded. And she said softly — “You know Christmas is really special for us. Christmas is the anniversary of our engagement — 6 years ago.”

I have discovered that fate does not determine if we’re on a peak or in a valley, or if we are on the upswing or down. We do. Jay and Amanda could have chosen to be miserable about his illness — rather they seem to have accepted their circumstances and hope and work to make each day better.

This is what Christmas and the holiday season is about. Hope and happiness. Hope does not always mean that we will live longer or be permanently cured of a cancer or a dreadful disease. Hope does not mean that each day will be better; hope means that we will work to make each day better. Happiness is not about just a happy ending, like in the movies, but a happy journey, what we make our lives. Happy holidays from our family to yours.

Source : Commercial Appeal