*It wouldn’t be Christmas to me without George Bailey. I wrote this piece some time ago and I read it often as a reminder to myself to hang in there when I’m feeling the way George did on his “crucial night”. If you are having a crucial night yourself, I ask that you remember that you are here for a reason and you have made differences to others that you are not even aware of. If you can’t realize this in the “logical” sense of the word, I ask that you believe it by faith. It is surely so. It was laid on my heart to remind you. Having just suffered the sudden unexpected loss of my brother-in-law this week, as we grieve and reflect on the memories and joy that he brought to each of us, I was once again reminded of how VERY MUCH each of our lives touch so many that we are not aware of and what a genuine gift we are to one another in the truest sense of the word. My brother-in-law was much loved and will be forever missed, and I can honestly tell you that he had a wonderful life.
I love George Bailey.
Or perhaps I should say, just as Mary Hatch whispered in George Bailey’s non-hearing ear as a young girl, “George Bailey, I’ll love you til the day I die.” I love that part. I love the way the young Mary Hatch knows that she’ll always love George. I love that she ends up with him as she always knew she would—even though he was hell-bent on not allowing himself to fall for her. If you knew me, my loving this aspect of George wouldn’t surprise you. All the men who have loved me the most passionately resisted it every step of the way, including hubby. I suppose they knew being a part of my life might not “logically” be their wisest move, but for reasons unbeknownst, they couldn’t resist. Kind of like drugs or kryptonite. As Melissa Etheridge so beautifully put it,“You found out to love me, you have to climb some fences.” Yep. I’m done apologizing for that. Finally. But anywho… George Bailey is, IMHO, “every man” and I consider It’s A Wonderful Life to be a thought-provoking part of the holiday season that I couldn’t do without.
From the time George is a boy, he has a grand plan for himself. He doesn’t want to stay in one place–no siree– no tiny little bumf*ckEgypt like Bedford Falls–he’s going to go on adventures and never stay put. He’s going to travel, build things, see what the great big world has to offer and make his contribution to society in some major way. George has it all worked out. George has great intentions. But George’s plan was not the Universe’s plan and instead, a series of events lead George to spend his life in Bedford Falls, running his father’s Building and Loan and living the type of life, the idea of which, had filled him with disdain as a younger man. And while he settles into and becomes comfortable with his life for what it is, after a day with a particularly bad turn of events, George becomes discouraged and loses his way and in his moment of despair, feels that the world would be a better place had he never been born. I don’t know about you, but my hand is raised, George- been there.
Okay, so maybe I never dreamed of building things or traveling to, say, the jungle for instance, but we all had our dreams. Truthfully, mine were more like Bowling For Soup sings about in their song, 1985; “she was going to be an actress, she was going to be a star, she was going to shake her ass on the hood of Whitesnake’s car.” Yeah baby. That was me. But those aren’t actually the unrealized yearnings that get most of us down. I mean, especially with how out of control the paparazzi is these days, I really couldn’t care less about being famous, so that’s not an issue. Honestly, what I can identify as a frustration is the thought that I haven’t made a difference in any way- that the world is no better nor any worse for my having been in it. And that’s why watching George makes me feel better. When I see George’s response to all the ways he DID make a difference (“all the men on that transport died! You weren’t there to save Harry, so Harry wasn’t there to save them!”) I realize the myriad of little things that we do every day that we don’t give a second’s thought to, that have a huge ripple effect on the world we live in. What also comes to mind are the people whose names I never even knew and yet, their kind words or supportive actions made a difference in my life. Moments that are most likely long forgotten to them and yet affected me so strongly that they gave me strength to inch my way forward when I felt like crumbling into a little ball and just giving up on everything. A wonderfully warm woman at Children’s Hospital many years ago comes to mind here. My son was only 2 at the time and I was still struggling with my disbelief and heartache at being thrust into the “autism zone” and trying to make some sort of peace with the situation so that I could move past my helplessness and into a place of acceptance, leading me in the direction to become the mother warrior that lives inside of all of us. On this day, knowing that my son needed to give 17 vials of blood for yet more testing (autism not only affects the mind- digestive, as well as a myriad of other internal challenges are additional struggles) and dreading him having to endure that and blaming myself (I know, I know, but don’t we always find some way to blame ourselves? Was it the self tanner I used before I knew I was pregnant? Was it those cherry cokes I sometimes allowed myself as a treat? blah blah blah blah……….We do this to ourselves) I remember leaning against the wall that day and closing my eyes, trying not to cry (we cried a lot in those days) and praying to God to send me some sort of reinforcement. Some little show of support to let me know that we weren’t alone. This sign came later in the waiting room. My son was across the room in the play area and she’d been watching him. At the hospital you get used to people asking you what you’re there for and I’d come to dread “explaining our story” and then watching the look of pity that would cross people’s faces and hear them say the variations on the “oh, that’s so sad” comment. Not that I’m blaming them. It was sad and at the time much less was known about autism, so what are you supposed to say? I didn’t know what to say either. But let me interject here that when your eyes become opened to what’s going on in other people’s lives as well as your own (and believe me, if you can’t see this at a hospital I don’t know where you would see it) you are amazed at the strength in people- parents especially. You see them dealing with their children’s illnesses, special needs, or whatever they are dealing with and you can’t believe it’s possible. Lord knows, you look around and know that whatever you’ve got going on, there is someone to your right or left who is making peace with some even greater challenge and what you’ve got isn’t all that bad. But that day I was still trying to find that peace, and after telling this kind woman the story of my son and waiting for the “oh no, how awful for all of you“, I instead received a message that I will carry with me forever. She put her hand on my arm and looking DIRECTLY into my eyes, she exclaimed joyfully with a smile on her face, “That child is a blessing to you”. I am not exaggerating my description of her comment here- the lilt and song-like tone of her voice still rings in my ears to this day, reminding me. Then she put her arms around me and gave me the type of hug that warmed me to the very core of my being. I don’t remember her name, don’t know where she lives and will more than likely never see her again. She’s nobody famous, nor is it likely that she’ll change history in a manner that will be written up in any book. But she was there to remind me of a fact that should have remained obvious to me, but had instead become obscured by my feelings of self-pity and that little eye-opening thwack changed my life.
So I guess why I love George Bailey is because he is a reminder to me that just because some of us aren’t meant to leave Bedford Falls, we shouldn’t assume that the contributions we make are any less worthwhile in the overall scheme of things than those of others that make the headlines. And while we trudge along waiting for that great thing to happen that will mark our lives truly meaning something, our wonderful life was actually occurring all along.