Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Digging Deeper into It's a Wonderful Life

Which movies do you watch over and over again come Christmas time?

Every year, Eric and I cuddle up withThe Charlie Brown Christmas Special and The Grinch, but A Christmas Story , Elf and Christmas Vacation are often in the line up too.

Then of course, there is that sacred cow of Christmas Films, It's a Wonderful Life . As a devotee of old movies in general, Jimmy Stewart in particular, and sappy, life affirming messages all around, you'd think this would be a favorite of mine.

And it is. But it isn't.

I watch this movie almost every single year and bawl my eyes out the whole time. But it's not the sort of crying I do when beauty catches at my heart and sends a recognition of the sweet, gorgeous brevity of life shivering through me. There is some of that, but it is overwhelmed by a deep grief for George Bailey and everything he has cheated himself out of.

George Bailey is a heartbreaking character. He has a life full of promise. He has dreams for himself. He wants so much to see the world. He wants to see what lies outside Bedford Falls. And he sacrifices those dreams again and again for other people. He believes that he is the only person holding it all together.

Now, I believe whole heartedly in helping others. But I object deeply to the idea that it can only be done through ruthless self sacrifice.

It's a very convincing lie. You can do it for awhile, but if you are giving from a place that is not rejuvenated (you are giving out of duty, expectations or with an eye to reward) then burn out awaits.

Just look at George before he meets the angel Clarence. He is a ghost of himself- sunken eyes, bitterness and guile swelling up in his heart. His anger and frustration explode out of him at whatever happens to be in his way- the school teacher on the phone, his oldest boy asking for help with Christmas related vocabulary, the oak tree he drunkenly crashes into.

This idea that everything will fall apart if not for "ME" holding it all together is seductive. We cherish this idea because it makes us feel important. But what if the things we are holding up need to fall apart so that something better can arise? Or what if someone else will take up the task with an enthusiasm and joy we could not bring to it?

In the end, this is one of the lessons that George learns. When he lets go, he discovers that his friends love him enough to come through and create a miracle for him and the Building and Loan.

Our lives can be filled with meaning when we realize our fullest potential and our joy flows out to enrich the lives of the people around us. Because if we can give from a place that is refilled by joy, love and compassion then we can do it endlessly and without bitterness or desire for reward. It's the difference between pouring from a puny bottle or pouring from a well that is eternally replenished at the source.

Bet you didn't realize all that was packed into one little movie, did you? What's in your Netflix Que this December?


One Blonde Girl said...

My favorite is White Christmas. Back when I was still living at home (many years ago), my mom and I would make an event of watching it together and wrapping Christmas presents (it's her favorite too). Every now and again I'm able to make it back for the special night (and we even let my sisters join in now).

MAB Jewelry said...

You're exactly right about It's a Wonderful Life. It's not the shiny, happy movie that people believe it is. It's dark, serious and very sad. I love dark movies, but I also love the redemption he finds at the end, and the joy he realizes that he has for his life.

For pure fluffy fun, I watch The Thin Man!

The Fab Miss B said...

Ooh! I love the Thin Man too! I've only seen the first in that series, but I've got a feeling they are all good fun.

And White Christmas definitely has some amazing song and dance numbers and costumes!

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