Thursday, December 5, 2013

My Controversial Christmas Tradition.

A while back, a friend of mine (Joe) polled us on Facebook about our favorite movies. After tabulating the results, he asked a bunch of us to do a write-up, each on a specific movie from the Top Twelve. I was honored to receive the nod for my favorite movie. It felt appropriate to share here, given the season, and I'd like to have my words "preserved" for my own record, as it were.
Every single Christmas Eve, without fail, I watch It’s a Wonderful Life. I suppose I didn’t realize what a controversial tradition this was — after all, NBC airs it each Christmas Eve — but time and again, I get asked how I can watch such a depressing, dismal movie on one of the happiest, most magical nights of the year. It makes me wonder if I’m watching the same movie. Because I see a story filled with humanity and lessons about not taking the gifts we’ve been given for granted.

Sure, George has a bit of a temper, and he’s harboring some bitterness over giving up his dreams. But George is so much more than his flaws or his goofy facial expressions or his enormous ears that remind me of my Great Uncle Will. He’s compassionate to a fault, he works hard, and he takes over the family business against his will because the ol’ Bailey Building and Loan is important to his town, to those who do “most of the working and paying and living and dying” in Bedford Falls. Far from depressing, there are plenty of humorous moments — I still laugh out loud at the toll keeper when he is so taken aback by Clarence that he falls over in his chair and then makes his escape, shaking his head in wide-eyed disbelief.

It’s the ending, though, that gets me every time. No, not the famous “Look, Daddy! Teacher says every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings!” It’s when a formerly distraught George has returned to his house, so grateful for everything he has, even if that missing $8,000 he *doesn’t* have means he’ll be on his way to jail … and then they come. All the people he’s ever given a chance to fulfill their dreams at the sacrifice of his own. Mr. Martini, who “bust-a da jukebox,” and Annie with her divorce fund if ever she got a husband, and Sam Wainwright’s telegram from London with instructions to cable George as much money as he needs, “hee-haw and Merry Christmas.” Tears spill from my eyes as George reads the note inside the copy of Tom Sawyer that he finds in the pile of money so freely given by the residents of that little New York town: “Remember, no man is a failure who has friends.”

Not a feel-good movie? I can’t think of a movie that makes me feel better, as it reminds me that, despite my shortcomings, my life is filled with so much good, especially when I take a good look around me at the people who’ve come through for me — people who see me, not for my flaws, but for the good things I struggle to see in myself. Hot dog!

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