On Walt Kowalski and a Blue Christmas

Reflections on Christmas with a little help from popular culture:

This time of year is sometimes referred to as the ‘silly season,’ so perhaps I can be forgiven for penning a piece that is perhaps a little bit silly or frivolous. But it is actually also rather serious. I will tie together a few things from popular culture, and perhaps still get some sort of important message out of it all.

Apologies for being a bit personal here, but with this being my first Christmas in many decades as a single guy, it will take a bit of time adjusting to all this and getting used to it. In this regard it is interesting that two years ago I wrote a piece with similar themes: on being lonely at Christmas.

In that article I was referring to the Covid hysteria and how you could even be shunned by family members and kept away from Christmas get-togethers. It is interesting how I concluded that piece, given that we did not learn of my wife’s cancer until a month later:

“So please enjoy your Christmas wherever you are. For those who can be with their entire family, please shoot up a prayer for those who cannot be. And especially pray for anyone who has lost a loved one recently. They certainly need our prayers – and lots of hugs.” https://billmuehlenberg.com/2021/12/25/on-being-lonely-at-christmas/

She of course is now gone. While I have other family members looking after me of course, it can be a bit lonely at home. I do still have Jilly dog and Possum cat. But the other day I found myself thinking somewhat odd thoughts: as I was talking out the garbage cans I almost hoped I would bump into a neighbour and have a brief chat.

Meeting them sometimes does happen, but so often when I do go outside – including when I walk the dog – I seem to see no one else. Maybe that is just how life now is in suburbia. In times gone by, and especially at this time of year, you would constantly be bumping into others. Now so often the streets seem deserted, and everyone seems to have disappeared – or holed themselves up inside!

All this makes me think how I – and all of us – need to pay more attention to those who are home alone and doing it tough. Even little things can help others when they are lonely or feeling unwanted and unloved. We need to be willing to go out of our way to help them, and simply being more sensitive to others and their plight is a first step.

But let me tie in two things from popular culture that most folks would be aware of. One involves a very famous singer, and the other involves a very famous actor. Back in 1957 Elvis Presley released the hit single, Blue Christmas. The bulk of the lyrics run like this:

I’ll have a blue Christmas without you
I’ll be so blue just thinking about you
Decorations of red on a green Christmas tree
Won’t be the same dear, if you’re not here with me


And when those blue snowflakes start falling
That’s when those blue memories start calling
You’ll be doing all right
With your Christmas of white
But I’ll have a blue, blue, blue, blue Christmas

While this old country and western tune is about unrequited love, one can apply it to the loss of a loved one through things such as death. I happen to quite like the tune, so it has been going through my head of late. And sometimes I do think things are a bit blue this year.

If you have a good sound system at hand (listening to songs on smart phones really does not cut it!), here is Elvis: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B6WnnZRSKYs

Or if you prefer a newer version, as with the Brian Setzer Orchestra, see this (ignore the brief ads before each one): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K5zUH7m99Tg

My second bit of pop culture has to do with a film. I had seen bits and pieces of the 2008 movie Gran Torino directed by and starring Clint Eastwood on TV over the years. Recently I managed to see the whole thing. I will not give it all away if you have not yet seen it but might want to.

After 50 years of marriage retired factory worker Walt Kowalski faces life alone with the recent passing of his wife. A grumpy old man, he is alienated from the rest of his family, and being a Korean War veteran, he is not thrilled with the Asians flooding into his neighbourhood.

But things change as he eventually befriends some of them and even pays the ultimate sacrifice for them. I mention the film here for a few reasons. One is the rather iconic scene of him sitting on his porch watching the world go by with a cold drink in his hand.

Just yesterday I did something I had not done for a long time. When she was well, in the summertime my wife and I would often sit out front with a cold white wine in hand, watching folks walk by. It was not all that peaceful however, as my Daisy dog always put sticks near my feet, wanting me to throw them for her. (A year ago we had to put her down, aged 16 and a half.)

So with yesterday being a nice warm sunny day, I decided to relive that pleasant memory. I got a cold drink and sat in the warm sun. Of course it was all rather different – it was just me (even though Jilly and Possum tagged along). Given that I am usually inside in front of the computer, it was nice to get out and soak up the rays and enjoy my drink. But still, it was just not the same…

So I told folks on the social media yesterday that I was doing a Clint Eastwood, recreating his famous scene from the film! But having seen the entire movie recently, I noted some other similarities (not all of them I am necessarily proud of!). Obviously I too lost my wife after a long marriage.

And the dog he had by his side was also called Daisy. Thirdly, he was certainly portrayed as a grumpy old man. Hmm, I think I can be that way too often – maybe not as bad as he was, but still… And finally, Walt had said that he felt he never really knew his two sons all that well. I can sometimes feel that way as well. Perhaps it is usually this way with most folks, but our children always seemed a bit closer to their mother than to I.

So I found myself relating to Walt a bit. And sometimes there are regrets. Often I think I was not such a great husband or such a great father – or even such a great Christian. But at least with Christ our regrets can be turned into hope. We can turn things around by God’s grace. It is just a pity it so often takes us so long to realise we need to change.

Well, in Hollywood fashion, Walt ended up redeeming himself – at least in a sense. But for the Christian we do not need to make the really great sacrifices. God already did that for us. When God sent his son into the world to eventually die for us and to deal with our sin problem, that was all that was needed.

We simply receive that incredible gift. And that is why we still give gifts today at Christmas, two thousand years on. We celebrate the greatest gift ever given. And we celebrate the greatest life ever known. As Frederick Buechner has expressed it:

It is impossible to conceive how different things would have turned out if that birth had not happened whenever, wherever, however it did … for millions of people who have lived since, the birth of Jesus made possible not just a new way of understanding life but a new way of living it. It is a truth that, for twenty centuries, there have been untold numbers of men and women who, in untold numbers of ways, have been so grasped by the child who was born, so caught up in the message he taught and the life he lived, that they have found themselves profoundly changed by their relationship with him.

Even a grumpy old man like Walt Kowalski could have had his life turned around. Christ did turn my life around, so there is hope for all of us. I still have a long way to go, but you should have seen me 50 years ago!

Oh, and I should mention that I have now added Clint Eastwood to my daily prayer list. The 93-year-old is in as much need of God’s saving grace as any of us are.

[1473 words]

16 Replies to “On Walt Kowalski and a Blue Christmas”

  1. Nice touching article Bill. Hope your Christmas will be joyful and filled with blessed memories. One error Bill Clint is now 93. God bless brother and keep up the good work in 2024 though it can be discouraging at times.

  2. I always cry alot at watching the end of Grand Tornino. Powerful film about redemption & sacrifice.

  3. Merry Christmas Bill and thank you for all your informative writings.

    John Abbott

  4. Great writing, Bill. Made me feel human. Must watch Gran Torino and catch up with that Elvis tune. Popular culture ain’t all half bad sometimes.

  5. We tend to understand circumstances only when we’re in them. It can be that so often we’re disconnected with so many situations people can be in and we only have our own lived experience. It will be so good in heaven when we can relate and receive as God designed us to be. God bless Bill, Andrew

  6. Bill, irregular reader, admirer of your writing, and similarly a widower, 8 1/2 years now, but not any easier, so I suffer with you, we lost our only child, so I’m totally alone, and by honestly wishing I were gone as I’ve no purpose to be here on earth.
    Loneliness is degrading for me, watching just about everyone around me, young and old(er)
    celebrate together, I’m basically taking up space and resources.
    Thankful for you you have family watching out for you, and a couple 4 legged friends.
    I do have a couple Boston Terriers that help an inch or two, but I daily taste the grit of missing my wife, gone in her early 60’s from cancerS, then lung failure from the treatments.
    Share your affection for Blue Christmas, and Gran Turino, hits the heart deep.
    Lord bless you

  7. A Blue Christmas I can relate to that. By a miracle my kids have decided that I am persona non grata this Christmas. They will have a family gathering without me… big misunderstanding and loooong story involved…God is working…cutting ties for future mission work…I will do something very special this eve.. .midnight mass at a Catholic Retreat and spend the day with Jesus tomorrow…praying for my kids and grandkids… the best gift I can give them….being called more and more into intercession. You and Clint Eastwood on the list.

  8. Merry Christmas, Bill and all the best for a happy, prosperous and productive new year.

  9. Thanks for sharing your thoughts Bill- I sure appreciated it. I’m sure others will too.
    Best wishes for this season
    David West

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