By Judy Berman
It was nearly Christmas. For the second year in a row, I searched for the one gift I knew our two daughters would love. But it eluded me.
Finally, I found them in a flea market. The price! It was a black market price – way beyond what the Cabbage Patch dolls sold for when they were available in the stores. Despite that, I bought two. I couldn’t wait to see our daughters’ faces when they opened their presents. It would be the best Christmas ever.
There were a few other times when there was too much month at the end of the money. When I couldn’t afford new shoes for my youngest to wear when she was in a school play. When we had a turkey one year only because it was a gift from my employer. Our girls never complained, but I felt like a failure.
Not on the scale of a George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life. The Frank Capra movie, starring James Stewart and Donna Reed, was released Christmas 1946.
Based on the short story, “The Greatest Gift,” by Philip Van Doren Stern, it begins with George “leaning over the railing of the iron bridge, staring down moodily at the black water.”
He is having very dark thoughts indeed.
In the movie, there’s an angel’s voice saying it’s a crucial night for George Bailey.
“He’ll be thinking of throwing away God’s greatest gift. Joseph, send for Clarence.”
Clarence’s mission is to convince George that his life is worth living. If Clarence succeeds, he may earn his angel wings. It’s a hard sell. George feels trapped in his job, unable to pay the bills, and that he’s missing out on adventures that others have enjoyed. He’s desperate.
He tells the stranger, “I wish I’d never been born.” That strikes Clarence as an excellent idea, and he grants George’s wish.
“You’ve been given a great gift, George! A chance to see what the world would be like without you,” Clarence said.
“Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives, and when he isn’t around it leaves an awful hole, doesn’t it. You see, George, you really had a wonderful life. Don’t you see what a mistake it would be to throw it away?”
It doesn’t take George long to realize he wants to live. In flashbacks, we see that George’s life fits the definition of success: “To know even one life has breathed easier because you lived … “ George begs for Clarence to help him. Despite the bumps and bruises he’s experienced, he wants to be back with his family.
This movie, that is now a holiday classic, actually lost money at the box office that year. The critics thought it was too sentimental. Its staying power, however, can be attributed to the movie’s optimism.
I smile when I think of that Christmas long ago. My girls were delighted with their dolls. But those presents were overshadowed by a greater gift that we’ve all been given: life.
We touch the lives of so many people. Sometimes, in ways we’re not fully aware of.
Movie Trailer: It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
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Main photo: Henry Travers (as Clarence Odbody) and Jimmy Stewart (as George Bailey) in It’s a Wonderful Life.
Photo: Screenshot of It’s a Wonderful Life with Donna Reed, Jimmy Stewart and Karolyn Grimes (as Zuzu). http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/a/ab/It%27s_A_Wonderful_Life.jpg/640px-It%27s_A_Wonderful_Life.jpg
Quote on “Success” – “To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived – this is to have succeeded.” This quote, often attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson, actually was written by Bessie Anderson Stanley. http://emerson.tamu.edu/Ephemera/Success.html