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The Ultimate Gift

December 29, 2009

Over the holiday weekend, my parents-in-law and I watched the movie The Ultimate Gift. And while the Christian undertones were more obvious in the movie than many Christian might realize, it was a good movie. I enjoyed it. (For those of you who don’t know, I’m Unitarian Universalist born and bred, and while I have a healthy respect for Christianity, my upbringing leads me to be especially sensitive to even subtle Christian messages.) Now, granted, the dialogue could have been a little better fleshed out, and some of the character development was a little … jumpy, but on the whole it was an enjoyable movie with a great message.

The basic premise is that an old, wealthy man dies, and leaves portions of his estate to his many children and grandchildren. But, as is too often typical with “second generation” millionaires, his children have little respect for money, and their children, “third generation” millionaires, have even less. As the portions of his estate are doled out by his executor (and good friend), each member of his family is asked to leave the room, until only one person is left: the old man’s estranged grandson.

To this grandson, who is just as money-obsessed and real-world naive as the rest of his family, the old man leaves only this: a series of “gifts” in the form of tasks that the grandson must accomplish in order to earn what the old man describes as the “ultimate gift”. If he fails, as determined by the executor/friend of his grandfather, he gets nothing; if he succeeds, he gets whatever mysterious inheritance his grandfather has in store for him.

Needless to say, the grandson, who’s name is Jason, is uppity and disrespectful at first, and doesn’t really appreciate the lessons he’s learning as he goes through the tasks his grandfather has laid out for him. The first gift is the Gift of Work, wherein Jason spends a month in Texas digging holes and putting up the perfect fence. Upon his departure, his grandfather’s friend says to him, “If you work at everything like that, anything you try is in your reach.”

The rest of the movie follows in a similar vein, and Jason slowly learns the value of money, the value of true friendship, and the meaning of family and love.

And what I pulled out of it, movie critiques aside, is that there’s nothing in this world worth having if you don’t have to work hard for it. As the grandfather says, at one point, in a message to Jason, “Any process you are going through will get tougher before it gets easier. That’s what make learning a gift. Even though pain is your teacher.”

It’s sort of interesting to watch this movie now, when I’m at this crossroads in my life, wondering where I’m going next, what I’m doing next. I think I know why my mother-in-law was so keen to show it to me. She’s an amazingly perceptive woman, who recognizes what I’m going through and is trying to help me in whatever way she can. For that I am grateful, beyond words. It’s wonderful to have parents-in-law that I can cherish as members of my family.

So the moral of this story? Work hard, do what you love, pursue worthwhile endeavors, and money is great, but it can’t buy everything, and it can’t buy the important things.

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