No, I didn’t tear up while watching It’s a Wonderful Life last year or the year before that. And anyway, you can’t prove it. And even if I did tear up, it was no doubt because a wood shaving landed pointy-end first in my eye. Floating wood shavings are everywhere.
This is the perfect movie. Every year, I see further beyond the sappy sentiment to the raw and powerful message therein. It’s about gratitude, baby. And not the kind of phony gratitude you express when a distant uncle dies and wills you a ton of cash, you selfish bum.
I’m talking about gratitude for the seemingly mundane things, like the wife if you have one, the dog if you don’t. I’m talking about thankfulness for simple things like a heated home and three meals a day that don’t come out of a dumpster. We should show gratitude for things like freedom and friends, but we never do.
As a species, we’ve become a race of whiners. We whine because we haven’t risen in our jobs to the level we feel we are entitled. We whine because we don’t have enough money for a speedboat and a big camp on the lake. Or if you do have a speedboat and a camp on the lake, you whine because they aren’t as grand as your neighbor’s. And that slacker doesn’t work nearly as hard as you do. Life is truly unfair.
It’s a real kick in the pants that we have to grind it out day after day at jobs that steal forty hours a week of time that could be spent in pursuit of high times. Our bosses are real bastards and our colleagues are morons. Why do we even try anymore? What’s the sense of living this go-nowhere life?
When I was a kid, the sight of George Bailey running up to the various people in his life and frantically begging them, “Don’t you know me?” was sheer terror. It was Twilight Zone stuff, meant for chills and nothing more.
Now that I’m slightly older and far wiser, I see what I’ve missed. I missed the point that all of the people in George Bailey’s life, no matter how seemingly insignificant, complete the landscape of his life. Not just his mother and father, brother and uncles. The people on the periphery, like the old dude who runs the pharmacy; the glitzy debutante who always seeks advice, whether she needs it or not; the guy who pours the drinks at the local tavern.
Anybody’s life, including yours, could use a close examining, because the people out of the corners of your eyes may be more important than you know. The girl you flirt with at the corner store; the office guy who always brings you coffee; the cop who helped you with the restraining order and who checks on you every now and then.
If your life was a big play, these people would be vital to the plot. Remove some of them and the story of your life feels frail and underpopulated. It falls apart without the small but numerous components that prop it up.
I’m not saying you should jump on your mailman and give him a sloppy kiss, because that might get you sprayed with mace. And deservedly so.
But it is worth giving his role in your life a moment’s thought before you grab your bills and start grousing over them. Just a moment to consider the people who work behind the scenes in this grand performance that is your existence. Because you don’t want some aging angel coming into your world to muck things up just to get the point across.
Socrates pronounced that “an unexamined life is not worth living.” And while Socrates was a deep thinker and no fun at all at parties, he hit upon the central theme so eloquently portrayed by Jimmy Stewart: by failing to appreciate all the minute parts of your life, you weaken them and undermine their importance in your world.
It is never good to undermine your friends, your family, passing acquaintances, and kind strangers, who prop up your life like the beams of a house. Clarence the angel may have been a sweet old man in the movie, but I hear he’s grown mean and more likely to open a can of whoop-ass when it’s called for.
That’s my take on it, anyway. Deep thoughts inspired by an ancient movie and too much eggnog. Now just remember: every time a bell rings, it’s probably someone trying to reach you.
Answer the damn phone, fool.