An Ode to George Bailey

Not loving Jimmy Stewart was not in the cards for me. Growing up, my mother had such an affection for him that he seemed like a distant part of the family. Fearless in her unrequited, faux-familial love, we spent a week in Beverly Hills in the late 1980s, in what can only be described as a stalking expedition that ended with both of us shaking his hand in his front yard. I was 12 years old and distinctly remember him looking down at me and saying I might be interested to know that Ricky Shroder lived across the street. (I wasn't particularly interested, but how kind of him to try and make conversation.)

He was the great-uncle war hero we never saw (other than in films and that one time on the lawn) but who we loved just the same—as if he were seated with us at the Thanksgiving table every year. We loved him in Hitchcock classics like Rear Window and Vertigo, of course, but who we truly wanted at our Thanksgiving table was Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey in It's A Wonderful Life


I have, as I suspect many others do this time of year, a tradition of watching It's a Wonderful life on Christmas Eve with my family. Building a fire, cozying into the couch with a glass of wine, and wrapping presents while George Bailey bounds down Main Street in Bedford Falls shouting "Merry Christmas!" is something I live for each year.And this year, we need George Bailey more than ever before.

At the beginning of the movie, George is so down on his luck that he's contemplating suicide on Christmas Eve. His small business is about to go under. He's facing ridicule and scandal and jail time. But just as he's about to make the jump, his guardian angel, Clarence, arrives and shows him what his life would be like if he had never been born. Things get freaky from there... especially upon discovering his beautiful young wife (played by Donna Reed) is now an "old maid about to close up the library!" (OK, like any film from this era, there are some parts that haven't aged well.) 

But silliness aside, George Bailey is in a dark place when we meet him. He wanted to travel the world (and didn't); he wanted to work as an architect or city designer (he didn't); he hoped to have some money saved up by this point (he's broke). The culmination of all things terrible happens when his uncle "misplaces" his company's $8,000, and he has no where to turn. Or he thinks he has nowhere to turn. His friends are all down on their luck too. How could they possibly help him? *CUE THE TEARS* 

Every good Christmas movie has a Scrooge character and It's a Wonderful Life is no different.  Lionel Barrymore portrays Henry F. Potter, Bedford Falls' villain, with a grit and cruelty we haven't seen since yesterday's headlines regarding our president. ZING! Potter is a greedy, sinister, corrupt, capitalist slumlord who will do anything he can to fill his pockets. He puts his name on every development he owns in town; he cares nothing of other people or their children and families; he bribes, cheats, and steals... and, referring to an Italian man who is friends with George Bailey as a "garlic eater"—he is racist to boot.

It's impossible to watch this movie today and not see our 2018 society mirroring back. Greed and opulence as something to frown upon seems like a quaint notion anymore. Everyone is trying to sell us something. Do you have enough stuff? Do you have the right stuff? Have you bought all the stuff? 

Enough with the stuff!

Let's embrace the George Baileys of the world! Donate to your employer's Adopt-A-Family this year if you can afford it, give a dollar or two to that GoFundMe, send a care package to an old friend who's having a hard time, write a letter to your grandma! George Bailey touched so many lives without knowing it, as do we all. We don't need a guardian angel to wipe our neighbors' memories of us—or worse—turn our spouses INTO LIBRARIANS to give us that boost to do the right thing.

 We can be the George Baileys and be there for the George Baileys! Why AM I YELLING!? Because this movie gives me hope. George was wrong about a lot of things—namely that his friends and family could not help him in his time of need.  As Clarence so eloquently says to George at the end of the film, "No man is a failure who has friends." *CUE MORE TEARS*

—Sarah Mathews is an Accounts Assistant at Lawrence Public Library.

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