12.25.2010

A Wonderful Life

Jimmy Stewart
One of my very favourite movies of all time plays on television every Christmas Eve: It's a Wonderful Life. I saw this movie for the first time a few years ago and I was struck by the simplicity of the story and the profound yet honest lessons it taught me.

More recently, when considering the kind of man I hope to be, George Bailey has become one of the men I look up to. He is an exemplary model of masculinity; loyal, ethical, kind, generous, and loving while at the same time having moments of selfishness and disgruntled irritation. Sometimes he's a downright ass. He has dreams to see the world and build modern cities which he repeatedly sacrifices so that others might achieve their own dreams of having a modest home in which to raise their children.

He constantly seems to get the short end of the stick, poor George and until Clarence, his guardian angel, points out all the wonderful gifts George has he can't see them. Unfortunately this is often the problem we have when trying to find our own place in the world and it applies to notions of manhood as well. Too often we overlook our own strengths, and virtues when we compare ourselves to others. How often have you been envious of a character someone else has, fearing that you might not measure up without it? Not handsome like him, not strong like him, not outgoing like him, not rich like him, not athletic, or disciplined, or as smart as someone else? Why is it we look to others to validate our own worth? That simple kind gesture, or smile might have made someones day. The stern but honest criticism might have hurt someone feelings for a moment but it may have motivated them to success. Often the consequences of our actions on others lives goes untold. This holds true for good as well as bad.

George couldn't see that his greatest gift he ever gave to others was the sacrifice of his own dream. He couldn't see that the people he'd helped with his generosity were loyal and considered him more than a business man; they considered him a friend. And as we all know, no man is a failure who has friends.

Mr. Potter was the personification of that self-doubting voice that lives inside all of us. He is that self depricating doubtful voice that makes us believe that we aren't living up to other people's expectations of us, that we are letting people down, that we just might be worth more dead than alive. And honestly there isn't anyone that likes that old money-grubbing buzzard anyway.

George is a good man; a sensitive, kind,  family man who works hard to support his family. The reason people identify with George Bailey is he isn't a perfect man all the time; he is a real guy who had dreams and disappointments and made sacrifices and has regrets just like everyone else. George has  dreams of being great. He has a bit of an ego and he struggles reconcile the man he always dreamt of being with the man he sees himself to be. Until Clarence and Mary show him just what a loved and well respected man he is George never considers how his actions have affected others. He can't see himself through the eyes of his friends and therefore doesn't recognize himself as a success.

My grandfather was a man like George Bailey and I often wonder what he wanted from his life- before he went off to war, before he got married, and had a family. I wonder if his life had turned out the way he had wanted it to or if he was one of the lucky guys like George who wound up with so much more than he ever dreamed.

So for everyone out there who hears that cranky old Mr Potter in their head, close the door to his office today. Look closely at what is around you and see what you have,  it might make you realize you are richer than you think.

Merry Christmas.

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