Opinion: What Have You Done with Your Life?


George Bailey in Its A Wonderful Life | Image by Jeff Bukowski

Do you have a favorite Christmas movie? Although there are many good ones, the one that really puts the season — and life in general — in perspective for me is It’s a Wonderful Life. The 1946 Frank Capra classic, in addition to being a marvelous love story with a dose of divine guidance, combines drama, pathos, humor, and a lesson for all those who lose sight of their individual value to the world.

When George Bailey, played by James Stewart, attempts suicide because he fears bankruptcy, a guardian angel is assigned to show him what the world would have been like without him. Bailey, a very respected resident of the very respectable town of Bedford Falls, has sacrificed his dream of a future in a big city in order to run the failing Building and Loan institution founded by his deceased father.

Lionel Barrymore is at his best as the greedy banking tyrant Henry Potter. For years, Potter has tried unsuccessfully to destroy the B & L and become the only lending institution in town, thereby squeezing every penny from the residents with borderline usury. Bailey is the only one standing in his way, until a mishap by a Bailey associate gives Potter the edge he needs. When Bailey realizes that he might not only lose the B & L, but also face embezzlement charges, he turns bitter and decides to end it all.

When Clarence, his guardian angel, grants his wish that he was never born, Bailey gets a view of Bedford Falls without his influence. The home that he and his wife restored, honeymooned in, and raised a happy family in is empty and dilapidated. Donna Reed, who plays his adorable wife, runs from him in terror when he claims to be married to her, and his three children don’t even exist. His mother doesn’t know him and threatens to call the police if he doesn’t get away from her door.

Bailey runs along the dark, snow-covered streets of the town, now known as Pottersville, frantically trying to obtain recognition from family and friends who once revered him. Residents who used to be friendly and polite have become hostile and cynical. The cozy, conservative taverns have become strip joints where prostitution flourishes. People who once owned their own homes, providing the rural tapestry of the town, are no longer a part of the landscape.

In addition, when Bailey was a youngster, he saved his kid brother from drowning. His brother grew up to be a hero in WWII, saving the lives of many other soldiers. Now Bailey visits the cemetery in town and finds his brother’s headstone. The fear in Bailey’s eyes when he realizes that he had a wonderful life, but threw it away during a bout of self-pity, is, to me, one of the most gripping moments in movie history.

Bailey begs to have his old life back, complete with the B&L problems, Potter’s incessant attempts to ruin him, and even the loose ornament at the bottom of the banister that keeps coming off in his hand when he heads upstairs. When his wish is granted, he races through the streets screaming “Merry Christmas” as he basks in the glow of a second chance at life. Meanwhile, his family and friends contribute their savings and valuables to get him out of debt. The movie warms the heart, enriches the soul, and keeps the viewer’s attention without ever resorting to sex, violence, or profanity. Furthermore, it provides a valuable lesson in how we perceive our circumstances.

We’re urged to consider the differences each life makes in the overall scheme of things. We don’t live in a vacuum; our lives take their meaning from our impact on others. What would the world be like if you were never born? How many people would be less than they are today if not for your positive influence?

There are George Baileys in every town and every country; people who work selflessly to improve the lives of those less fortunate. While you celebrate this holiday season, with all the stress that often accompanies it, remember how lucky you are to have family and friends who love you. The world would be a lonely and frightening place without them. The affection you have for each other is what makes for a wonderful life.

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2 months ago

Well, I’ve never regarded him as self-pitying or bitter. Those are not words, I feel, that aptly describe George Bailey. He was at his wits end and didn’t know what to do and had feelings of hopelessness. Sometimes there is a stick that breaks the camel’s back. He was dealing with an evil man with power and money. So in a moment of panic and despair, he forgot what the Bible tells us. “Count your blessings”.

And when George didn’t exist, Pottersville reminds me of what the dems are doing to this country (the people with power and money). The evil, vulgar and without moral purpose are taking over. Hmm, Pelosiville.