Wednesday, December 24, 2014
The night George Bailey saved my life
Dec. 24, 1984, was a miserable day. Oh, I don’t remember the particulars. I just knew I was going to be alone while the rest of the world celebrated Christmas. I was miserable.
I did have a job, and a modest but nice place to live in Green Bay, and a good dog and a cat. That was a start, but I had no human to share the season with. And I was mostly broke. I knew it was my fault and my choices that made it so, but that only made the holiday more miserable.
You might say I was so miserable, I wished I’d never been born.
So I sat down to turn off my brain with whatever dreck the television had to offer. The choices were limited; this was 30 years ago.
Public TV was offering some movie called “It’s A Wonderful Life” with lots of fanfare. They even called it something like “the beloved holiday classic.” Hmmph. I’d never heard of it. How could it be a beloved classic if I’d never heard of it? (Ah, the arrogance of the 31-year-old soul.)
Well, at least it had Jimmy Stewart in the lead. He was a pretty good actor. And there was nothing else on that looked interesting, so I settled my miserable soul down to watch it.
Two hours and a smidge later, everything was different.
The story is as transformative as the Scrooge story, except that George Bailey was not a miserly old curmudgeon. George was a normal, decent guy with big dreams who found himself constantly trading his dreams because people needed his help and he was hard-wired to take care of others. His life was not turning out the way he’d planned it.
Like Scrooge, though, George gets a chance to see what the world would look like if he wasn’t there anymore. As the story approaches its climax, George is so miserable he wishes he’d never been born.
“All right, George, you got your wish. You’ve never been born.”
It turns out the world without George Bailey would have been a nightmare for a lot of people. He was living a wonderful life, after all.
And I could see, with the little attitude adjustment that the movie provided, that so was I.
I was still deservedly alone on a Christmas. I was still mostly broke. But Frank Capra’s amazing fairy tale showed me how we’re never as alone as we think, and we each have the power to make the world a better place.
I hugged the dog and the cat. I called my family on Christmas Day and cherished them. I was Ebeneezer waking up to a fresh, joyful outlook. I was George Bailey finding Zuzu’s petals back in his pocket where they belonged. What do you know about that? Merry Christmas!
I wish I could say I stopped making bad decisions after that Christmas Eve, but I’m human, after all. Still, I’ve never again felt as alone and miserable as I did before I sat down to watch that film.
If all looks bleak and miserable this holiday season, hang on. You never know when things will turn around and get better, but they will. Your life may not be turning out the way you planned it, but you’ll see — it’s a wonderful life, after all.
Cross-posted to Door County Advocate