Every year at the beginning of the Christmas season, I put "It's a Wonderful Life" in the VCR and watch it... usually alone. My kids and grandkids aren't interested in a corny old black-and-white movie. And Cliff isn't usually in the house when I'm watching it. Today, however, he came in early with a backache; he was trapped.
It isn't that he doesn't like the movie; he laughs at all the funny parts. But he's embarrassed to watch a movie that puts him on the verge of tears; and this one does, toward the end. (He'll kill me for saying that when he reads this entry.)
See, we've never lived in anything BUT an old, drafty house rife with flaws; so when Jimmy Stewart kisses that knob on the stairway rail when it comes off in his hand for the hundredth time, we can relate. And who among us had not felt like a failure at some time or another; George had big plans, like we all do:
"I'm shakin' the dust of this crummy little town off my feet and I'm gonna see the world. Italy, Greece, the Parthenon, the Colosseum. Then, I'm comin' back here to go to college and see what they know. And then I'm gonna build things. I'm gonna build airfields, I'm gonna build skyscrapers a hundred stories high, I'm gonna build bridges a mile long... "
None of his plans came to fruition. He was stuck for life in a job he never wanted. Oh, but when he stands up to Mr. Potter, I can hardly keep from standing to my feet and cheering!
"Just remember this, Mr. Potter: that this rabble you're talking about, they do most of the working and paying and living and dying in this community. Well, is it too much to have them work and pay and live and die in a couple of decent rooms and a bath?"
There's sweet, kindly Clarence, working to get his wings. Sometimes I think perhaps I have the same sort of angel looking after me... a bit clutzy, but well-meaning and, in the end, successful.
"You've been given a great gift, George: A chance to see what the world would be like without you."
"You see George, you've really had a wonderful life. Don't you see what a mistake it would be to just throw it away?"
Another reason I love "It's A Wonderful Life" is that we once had a banker with a "George Bailey" heart, here in our little town. We were in our late twenties when we moved here, and up till then, lenders had treated us like inferior beings. But Larry treated us like equals. He'd ask how our kids were doing and carry on a light-hearted conversation while he worked out the details of some trivial, unsecured note we needed to buy another Jersey cow, or a tractor. I'll never watch "It's a Wonderful Life" without seeing Larry Wims in the role of George Bailey.
Oh, and the closing scene, with everybody chipping in with the money needed to keep Bailey Building and Loan open as they're all singing around the tree. Then little Zuzu says,
"Teacher says, every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings." That's when you know Clarence has it made.
I guess I'll always get a lump in my throat during that scene, even though I know it word for word.
Today, as you read this, stop and think of the lives you've touched, and how much the world would be lacking if you had not walked this earth. Pay attention to these words from Clarence:
"Remember, George: no man is a failure who has friends."
"One man's life touches so many others, when he's not there it leaves an awfully big hole."
Have a merry Christmas, everybody!