If you’re a sucker for what some consider a better time in America, especially viewed through the lens of nostalgia, then arguably, there may not be a better movie at this time of year than It’s A Wonderful Life. The final 8 minutes could be one of the best holiday segments of any movie ever made.
But life lived in the real world rarely follows the tried and true formula of a Hollywood script. As much as we adore George Bailey and root for him each and every year when we watch the movie, yet again, people these days are rarely that concerned about others in their own families—let alone someone from their hometown—like the people gathered at the Bailey residence in Bedford Falls.
It’s easy this time of year to become wishful, longing for a time that we might consider better than the America we’re living in today. That was surely part of the appeal of Donald Trump’s slogan, “Make America Great Again,” even if it’s looking more and more like it will be nothing but empty words for most.
I doubt many of us work with (or for) a George Bailey these days. Most companies—even the smaller, “locally-owned” varieties are increasingly focused on their bottom lines. Company parties have been scaled back considerably—if they have one at all. Christmas bonuses for the rank and file are all-but-forgotten. If you got a $10 or $20 grocery gift card, count yourself one of the lucky ones.
Several years ago, I worked for a man who valued his reports and actually demonstrated it in a tangible manner. Every year at Christmas time, he’d take us out for lunch on our last day before the holiday (even though because of his health, he didn’t care much for food). He set the bar high enough that the subsequent lesser lights that I’ve ended up working for have never come close to measuring up to. Heck, there have been years I didn’t even get a card from the person I reported to.
George Bailey’s family never gave up on him. His wife, Mary, recognized that something wasn’t right with her husband when he came home in a huff after lovable loser, Uncle Billy, misplaces the $8,000 bank deposit that Bailey Building and Loan must make to remain viable and not end up owned by Old Man Potter. Backed into a corner, George must grovel before Potter, who ends up taking out a warrant for his arrest. Bailey bends to the point of nearly breaking, but like all great movies, there is redemption for him at the very end.
That all of us would have a Mary Bailey in our corner, or an angel like Clarence. No, more often than not, holiday gatherings are marred by arguments about trivial things that shouldn’t matter, but often become mountains impossible to scale at some point.
If you haven’t watched the classic this year, I hope you’ll spend some time Christmas Eve with James Stewart and the rest of the stellar cast, as has become a tradition in our home. Just remember that it’s only a movie and it’s highly unlikely that a guardian angel will be materializing for you, or your boss just happened to have forgotten to give you your bonus check and it will be waiting on your desk next week.