On Christmas Eve this year, instead of going to church, I went to a different kind of service. My fiancée, her older sister, their mother and I went to the Art House Cinema and Pub in Billings to see Frank Capra’s 1946 classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
I’d never seen this movie on the big screen. Suddenly having the opportunity to do so was something I couldn’t pass up.
As long as I can remember, “It’s a Wonderful Life” has been a Christmas tradition for my family. When I was a child, I remember my mom bringing a box a Kleenex to the family room along with the popcorn. Every year, my father was a mess. The cheery ending always got to him. Tears of joy would stream down his face.
“George Bailey taught me how to be a nice guy,” he’s told me. “He’s taught me how to truly appreciate life.”
A retired Presbyterian pastor, my dad would use the mesmerizing clip of George Bailey (played brilliantly by Jimmy Stewart) outside of his mother’s home. The camera zooms in close on Stewart, who looks scared and on the verge of insanity. His mother didn’t recognize him. No one knows him and everything is awry. Clarence, George’s angel, gave the struggling character a great gift: a chance to see what the world would be like without him.
In this scene Clarence (a convincing Henry Travers) delivers the masterful line, “Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around, it leaves an awful hole, doesn’t it?”
By high school, that message was speaking to me, and I started introducing the movie to friends myself and carrying on the Christmas tradition. As I grew and experienced, I’d always come back to the film. Like my father, I started needing the Kleenex for the climax.
Now as a small-town reporter and musician embracing the community of 5,000 I’ve chosen to call home, the message of the movie is more powerful than ever.
Too often the message is lost, too often we choose not to count our blessings and instead focus on the negatives. We get down on ourselves for not working harder, for not being as ambitious as we once were, for not living our dreams. We worry about retirement and how much money we have in the bank.
Don’t get me wrong; by no means can one movie flip a switch and change your life forever. Life isn’t that easy, and it especially hasn’t been that easy for my fiancée’s family. Early in 2015, her mother was diagnosed with cancer. She’s been fighting it through chemo treatments and surgeries and, although its been challenging, she is keeping a healthy attitude and is not giving up. However, the more positive gestures she can muster, the better.
“It’s a Wonderful Life” is not just an entertaining, captivating way to spend an evening, although it certainly is that as well. If you open your eyes and your heart, the movie can serve as much more, reminding us what’s most important in life: relationships.
I stop and take a moment to focus on these relationships. I think about the people who have changed my life and the people whose lives I have impacted. I step away from finances – whether they are favorable or not so favorable – and think instead about those I love and those who love me in return.
When I do this, I realize what Clarence helped George realize: it truly is a wonderful life. Whether it’s Christmas time or mid-June, we all can use this reminder. That’s why “It’s a Wonderful Life” is my favorite movie. That’s why, every year, I need the Kleenex. Seeing this classic helps me appreciate the people here in Lewistown and the friends I’ve made. I appreciate and love my new family. I feel rich with relationships, and that’s what matters to me.
As Clarence wrote to George, “no man is a failure who has friends.”
(as published in the Lewistown News-Argus Jan. 2016)