Tuesday, December 02, 2014


It Really Is a Wonderful Life

I realize it is several weeks until Christmas, but the other day I caught myself daydreaming about some of our family holiday traditions.  For our family, the Christmas season would not be complete without watching, "It's a Wonderful Life.”  It represents a unique American vision. It is not a vision of Christmas -- despite the last, tear-wrenching scene in front of the tree -- but of how society ought to be, and can be within our church family.

I once read an analysis of the movie that got me thinking. Professor Ray Carney of Boston University said this movie shows that, while life can be "an enriching Norman Rockwell experience, it also can be smothering, where you end up marrying the girl you went to high school with, and you never get to go to Europe. It tells us George is one of the most sad and lonely and tragic characters ever imagined."

Nothing in the movie seems as sad as the professor's analysis of it. How could George Bailey be a tragic figure when he's the richest man in town? He makes Mr. Potter, the old miser, look like a pauper -- because George Bailey has loved and sacrificed and built and given and stood alone a time or two, and, well, he has lived.

No, he never got to be a tourist in Europe, but he didn't go through life as just a tourist either. It is hard to imagine "It's a Wonderful Life" being made in a decade when "The Hobbit,” “James Bond" and racy R-rated movies set the tone for American movies. Yet, this wholesome movie was one of the most sensual vignettes in the history of movieland. Donna Reed manages to seduce Jimmy Stewart without taking a stitch of clothing off.

The scene – with both of them trying to talk on the same telephone -- is full of irony and double meanings. "He says it's the chance of a lifetime," she breathes, passing on a message about a business deal from another suitor on the other end of the line to George. She is indeed holding out the chance of a lifetime: love, trust and family.

The movie is a celebration of the middle-class virtues, which are not typical enough in this decade. Think of all those who make a difference in your town. In fact, just like in the movie, you never really know how a kind word you have said, a gesture of kindness you have made, can impact others, especially children.

The most unsettling aspect of the movie's popularity is the realization that nostalgia for certain values tend to set in just when they are disappearing. Happily, nostalgia can also bring those values back, for there are fashions in values just as there are in clothes.

As I set working on this column I am inclined to count my blessings. I have a great family, healthy kids, a job, a roof over my head, good health, a God that loves me and many close friends. Yes indeed, it is a wonderful life!

First written by David Burton in 2003 for publication in Cross Country Times newspaper in Willard, Mo.

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