Saturday, December 25, 2010

It really is a 'Wonderful Life'

Among the holiday traditions at the Simmons compound is sitting down with some hot cocoa to watch “It’s a Wonderful Life.” (Though it’s also true my kids actually gather to watch my eyes mysteriously water at various times throughout the movie.)

The tale of George Bailey, a good hearted man who sacrifices his dreams to make life richer for others, is a true American classic. If Jimmy Stewart had never made another movie, his name would be cemented in film history for the humanity and desperation he brought to this role.

George does the right thing, even when it means foregoing his own desires, and his seeming reward for this is to find himself facing prison, financial disaster and humiliation for his family because of another man’s evil deed. Mr. Potter tells George he’s worth more dead than alive, and in that moment of hopelessness, George believes the lie. He thinks his family and friends would be better off without him, and that his insurance policy is all there is of value about him.

He wishes he had never been born.

George is blessed to see the world as it would have been without him in it. He learns how even his slightest remarks and actions made a difference in someone’s life, and they in turn enriched his world. The lesson being, a man of integrity and truth often interacts with others without even having to think about it, and may never understand the impact he can have on others — or how that impact reverberates back into his own life.

Now, don’t get me wrong, but I think there are plenty of Mr. Potters whose absence would make (or would have made, in their day) a better place of this old world. And not just those that are or ought to be behind bars; there are multitudes behind desks or countertops, or behind the wheel of a car or a wall of lawyers or a legion of goons — who we’d never miss if they disappeared.

But that’s not what this movie is about: We never even see if Mr. Potter gets his just desserts (although a hilarious Saturday Night Live skit of the movie’s “alternate ending” shows the townspeople taking vengeance on Potter.)

This season, the movie resonates for different reasons. This has been a year of struggle, heartache and loss for many of us, and we may wonder what good it does to keep up the fight. What you may not see in that darkest hour is how many lives you actually touch, or have touched in your time — or those you will affect as you continue. The payoff may not be what you expect. In fact, it probably won’t be.

But don’t give up. It really is a wonderful life.

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