When I was growing up, I couldn’t understand all the hub-bub (yes, I just said that) about Frank Capra’s classic, It’s A Wonderful Life. As an omniscient teenager, I thought, “Yeah, this is great. George has a really bad day at work, comes home, hollers at his kids, belittles his adorable wife, berates an undeserving schoolteacher via telephone... and then, he goes out and gets drunk. That’s so wonderful.” A really feel-good movie. Fun for the whole family. As long as you’re not his family.
As the plot progresses, he’s involved in a hit and run (poor tree), fleeing the scene of said accident, and resists arrest. Whee--this is a delightful picture. Quite the role model, he is. Now before you string me up with those eighty-percent off twinkle lights that you bought at Target’s After-Christmas sale, please realize that I do come to my senses. Eventually. It takes a bit of life-living to appreciate good ole George Bailey. And his obvious skill at lassoing the moon.
Enter Clarence Odbody, Angel, Second Class. If he helps George Bailey straighten out his act, he will earn his wings. He definitely has his work cut out for him. George has reached the end of his rope, having lost sight of the moon. And, his Buffalo Gal. And their painfully adorable offspring.
The adventurous George finds himself tethered to a town, a family business, a staying put that he never intended. Upon his father’s untimely death, he “mans up”, sends his younger brother to college with the funds intended for his own European adventure, and weds the lovely Mary. Instead of using their “honeymoon fund” for a whirlwind week in The Big Apple, Mary offers up their little nest egg to keep the family business afloat--on their wedding day. Ah, Mrs. Bailey. And, then the “wedding night” in the old estate. Complete with turntable-cum-rotisserie, candlelight, and singing cops. Just the beginning of their “bricks without straw” life together. But what they built was far more significant than they could ever dream.
George has the unimaginable opportunity to see what life would have been like if his whiskey-induced blather of “I wish I’d never been born!” had come to fruition. He sees a town gone to pot, dilapidated shanties, burlesque bars, and seedy characters. His mother becomes a hardened boarding house mistress, having lost her only son in a wintry drowning accident--George was not there to save him, of course. The lovely Mary is now the old-maid librarian and the despicable Mr. Potter runs the whole show.
You never realize how many lives you touch--until see those lives devoid of your impact or influence. George’s life of sacrifice, while exceedingly difficult at times, when the grass seems greener “anywhere but here”, was for something. Someone. Somebody.
He may not live in the most cosmopolitan of cities, in the finest mansion, driving the latest in automobiles. His passport may lack stamps of entry. But, he has a wife who is devoted to him, children who think he could truly lasso the moon, and a community of friends who give out of sacrifice and loyalty, often saying, “If it hadn’t been for you, George...” The Savings and Loan is saved--by those whose lives have been changed, not because of a signed check; but, because someone believed in them. Gave them a chance. All those diamonds in the rough.
And, Clarence earns his wings. And, how do we know this?
The hub-bub is justified. It’s A Wonderful Life--Really.