I've always loved It's a Wonderful Life. I mean, seriously, like always. Of course I was one of those nerdy kids who loved old movies from the time I could turn on a TV and even at six or seven -- like the darling lil insomniac I've always been - would stay up all night watching the old black-&-whites on Channel 2 from Denver, where in the good old days they would play classic movies all night long (you could sometimes catch four in a night) until they started up with The Little Rascals or The Abbot and Costello Show about the time the sun came up. Eleanor Powell dancing to Begin the Beguine with Fred Astaire in Broadway Melody of 1940, where it looked like they were flitting across a floor made of stars. (Oh how I wanted to be Eleanor Powell for a time -- or Kim Novak in Bell, Book, and Candle, or Veronica Lake in My Favorite Witch. Yeah, I was a weird kid.) I love Fred Astaire, and I loved Ingrid Bergman. But there were always the big three: Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn, and Jimmy Stewart. So, given that, there were certain movies that were favorites of mine -- heavy on the screwball, the sophistication, and the schmaltz: The Philadelphia Story, Bringing Up Baby, Arsenic and Old Lace, and, of course, It's a Wonderful Life.
So, it being the holiday season and all, and this holiday season in particular, that movie has been on my mind.
For anybody who has lived in a cave their whole lives and is scared by moving pictures, this is the plot in a nutshell:
Everyman George Bailey lives in the All-American hamlet of Bedford Falls, where he runs the family savings and loan, having given up his dreams to travel and do what-not because of various things that have happened and he, being the sincere, responsible, Jimmy-Stewart-everyman that he is, has put off everything to take care of whatever needed taking care of. And life happened to George Bailey -- he married and had children and bought a drafty old house that he couldn't pay to fix up, because being selfless tends to keep you from being rich, unlike Old Man Potter, who is the opposite of George Bailey and, being the scurvy spider that Old Man Potter is, hates George Bailey and all the schmaltzy, sweet, idealistic things he stands for.
And so it comes to pass that on Christmas Eve, George Bailey finds himself in crisis -- his life didn't turn out like his dreams, he really doesn't care for his job, his children are in need of constant attention (as children are wont to be), and his wife sometimes snaps at him because she has just as much to deal with as he does. And now he's found that because of a series of mistakes/happenstances, the old building and loan is going to fail. So George sees himself as a failure, and in his despair, goes to throw himself off a bridge because he figures he's worth more dead than alive. George Bailey has had enough.
But, because this is a magical place, this sweet, 1940s hamlet of Bedford Falls, an angel stops George and shows him all the terrible things that would have happened had he not been who he was, had he not been there at all. And by the time Clarence the Angel is done -- and he has quite the job, does old Clarence, because George Bailey has really had quite enough -- George realizes that, indeed, he did have a wonderful life, because he was kind and thoughtful and responsible and had ended up with the things that are the most important: the love of his family and friends and the respect of those around him. And so George Bailey -- praying that it's not too late -- goes home and finds that all the people have rallied around him, because George Bailey didn't realize how much he was loved, and how much he had touched everyone's lives. And he's still in the drafty old house with the decrepit bannister, and he still has a passel of kids that need constant attention, and his boring old wife who is busy with keeping the family running, and he still has his plain old job at the good old building and loan, which is not fun or glamorous or exciting or any of those things.
And I still cry when George finds Zuzu's petals in his pocket, and when Harry raises a glass to "my brother George Bailey, the richest man in town." (Just as I still cry when the Grinch hears the Whos down in Whoville singing and his heart grows three sizes, just as I still cry when Linus tells Charlie Brown that "it's not such a bad little tree.") I cry because those things are woven into me, despite my years as a card-carrying cynic -- and I was a pretty good cynic even at age 7-- because, especially in this season of goodwill towards men, and magic, and belief, I believe. I always have.
And I am crying as I type this, because all those other things that could have happened to George didn't: he didn't throw himself off that bridge, he didn't carry on with Violet, he didn't leave Mary and the kids in that drafty old house and run off to a quiet and uncomplicated shack in Potter's field. And, yes, maybe I'm as heavy-handed as old Frank Capra, but it irks me when people are shallow and facile and selfish, and they pretend they understand what these things mean.
And I get up in the mornings these days, and I try to be George Bailey, even though I have come more than passing close to throwing myself off a bridge into the inky blackness below a few times lately. Because, despite it all, I have had a wonderful life in the important aspects: I have four bright, kind, marvelous children; I have spent the last almost-20 years with a man I adore, who has almost always been George Bailey himself; I have rescued my share of critters and given them their own wonderful lives; I have created things of beauty, or at least honesty; and I have tried my best to be kind and faithful and true and brave.
So this post serves as my Annual Christmas Post -- which has usually been about how fortunate I am. Because right now my wonderful life is pretty much a smouldering ruin, or at least feels like one, and I am daily fighting the cynic and trying to hang on to my belief. There are a few Old Man Potters around me, who seem to hate me just because I am not like them, and I do my best to ignore them. They're used to winning, because it's easy to win when you're selfish and thoughtless and shallow. But still....the Whos keep on singing, and Charlie Brown's friends wave their hands and uncover the beauty of the sad, little tree, and somewhere, George Bailey finds Zuzu's petals in his pocket and realizes it's not too late.
So happy season of belief to all my friends and those I love -- may you find your own wonderful life, and even when it's darkest, may there be a light you follow to guide you home.
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