I was fifteen when I first discovered what is now my favorite movie. It’s a Wonderful Life was the only thing on television and, despite it being in black and white, I was quickly drawn into the world of George Bailey and Bedford Falls. Now my holidays aren’t complete until I’ve seen Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life at least a half-dozen times. With each viewing comes a renewal of my spirit — a reaffirmation of life’s joy. During this busiest shopping time of the year, it is refreshing to reconnect with these timeless truths.
The film opens with several voices praying, asking God to help George. We hear God and Joseph responding to the prayers as they prepare to send someone down. Later in the film, George himself asks God for help. Whether we are in our greatest hour of need or wanting to assist a troubled friend each of us has a direct line to help; we need only ask with a pure intent and it will come.
George experiences miracles throughout his life, the most blatant being Clarence, his guardian angel.Of course, we may not recognize a miracle while it’s happening, just as our friend George doubted Clarence. But eventually, if we are open to receive, the miracle will do its work and we will again see with clarity.
Perhaps our lives are predestined, perhaps not. I used to think that George was a victim of circumstance and that it was unfair that he never got to travel or pursue his dreams. How easy it is to see life as victimizing us. Now I realize that our individual paths in life are custom-designed to teach us precisely what we need to learn this time around. We usually kick and scream when things don’t go as we plan — but wouldn’t it be easier to go with the flow and enjoy the ride?
We often forget, or overlook, the impact we have on the lives of others. George gets to see exactly how he has touched those around him by visiting the would-be Bedford Falls — Pottersville — had he never been born. Each of us matters, and it has nothing to do with money, power or positions. Our mere existence is all that is required.
Mary, George’s wife, could have married high-rolling Sam Wainwright, but she didn’t. It’s the choices that we make on a daily basis that determine whether or not we are living in love or doing the logical, practical thing.
Living for love means putting everything on the line for what you truly believe, then trusting — knowing — that everything will be all right.
George was quick to speak his mind and let Potter know when he’s crossed the line. In defending himself, George defended the town against Potter’s greedy wrath. We, too, are heroes when we speak our truths to those who would intimidate or otherwise belittle us or those we care about.
The people in our lives who deliver miracles are angels in disguise. Anytime we allow God to work through us and share of ourselves freely and lovingly, we are functioning as angels.
When God explains Georg’s situation to Clarence in preparation for his mission, he tells him that George is in very serious trouble: “he’s discouraged.”
We live in a time when discouragement is epidemic. Somewhere along the line, dreams are traded for dead routines. However, hitting bottom is not a prerequisite for rediscovering the joy of life. We need only reconnect with our childlike wonder and see through the eyes of our hearts to know that it truly is a wonderful life.
I like to believe that everything changed for George Bailey with that coming New Year. Somehow, perhaps, the right blend of circumstances combined to enable the Bailey Brothers’ Building and Loan to continue serving the good people of Bedford Falls while George took his family on an extended trip around the world. That old drafty house was professionally remodeled, Potter left town and George never had to give a second thought to another bank examiner.
Don’t worry, I didn’t miss the point: Having learned the true value of life, George was empowered to finish out his days raising his kids and counting pennies in Bedford Falls. But why not imagine a happy beginning to go along with the happy ending — one where the hero gets his cake and eats it too?