The Gospel according to George Bailey: Musings on “It’s a Wonderful Life”

As with most years, my wife and I sat in front of the fireplace and watched “It’s A Wonderful Life.” Perhaps it is because my Scots-Irish heritage goes back to the Bailey clan that I connect with George’s bildungsroman so well. I have to admit that I am a bit of a weeper when it comes to such things, and after years of watching the film (pretty much every Christmas since high school), it’s the same story and the same result: George Bailey, the everyman of America’s early 20th century – survivor rather than thriver of the American dream – feels his life is worthless and decides to kill himself. Given the chance to see what life would be like for everyone else if he had never been born, he finds that life is indeed the greatest gift of all. In its now iconic ending that Frank Capra sets up so well, all the townsfolk show up at George’s house to bring gifts of money (akin to suburban Magi), but the most important gift they bring is something George has had in spades all along: friendship that has endured for decades. George’s now-famous brother, Harry – a war hero and all-star football player – comes center stage and raises a glass in toast to “my big brother George, the richest man in town.” Everyone joins in the chorus of “Angels we have heard on high” and the bells of all christendom chime to announce not only that Clarence, the angel second class, has now got his wings – but that the world is not forgotten if we remember it and each other.

Needless to say – I love this stuff and it only gets better as the years press forward. Every stage of life draws a different emphasis in the film – I longed for a relationship like George and Mary’s courtship in my late 20’s, I saw the pain of George struggling with his dreams in relation to his occupation – a job he never wanted but was destined to fulfill. In my 40’s I watch George the family man – the guy who for all the good he is doing in the world comes home and creates chaos for his wife and kids. Here is a guy I can relate to all-too-well – the darkness of anxiety and fear that you bring home with you and find leaks out into your relationships with those most dear to you. The looks on his children’s faces when he explodes in the living room should be required viewing for every father – it doesn’t get more real than this guys…

That said, as I face Christmas Eve with my children this season – I will be raising a glass to George Bailey amidst the darkness of the day as well as the light. Here is to taking another step into the world with faith rather than fear…here is to not having all the answers…here is to the courage to say “I am so sorry” when we explode like monsters in the presence of our kids and wife and see our dark humanity all-too-well… and here is to friends and the community of saints that surround us that remind us that despite all this we can live another day to kick at the darkness till it bleeds daylight.

Here’s lookin at you, George Bailey… Merry Christmas…

(view the ending at here… but have some Kleenex with you…)

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