Tuesday, December 20, 2005

No person is a failure who has friends.......

The other night at my church, we showed a movie that I think EVERYONE should watch at least once/year - "It's a wonderful life." This movie features George Bailey, a young man who inherits his dad's business (after his passing) who put aside his own dreams of going to college and advancing in life through that avenue, to continue the legacy put forth by his dad of putting people before profits.

The movie takes us through a brief glimpse of the life of George Bailey. It shows how he lost his hearing in one of his ears while swimming in icy cold waters to rescue his younger brother who was drowning. It also takes us to a pharmacy where George used to work - where he saved the life of a young boy who would have been poisoned by the pharmacist, who through a moment of madness, put poison in the pills that were supposed to go to a child.

It continues through his early 20s when he dances and falls in love with a girl who would be his future wife, and with whom he would raise four children.

George has a very successful life. His priorities are straight; he has a beautiful wife and beautiful kids. He has a family who loves and cares for him. He's making a difference in the lives of others through his business - and he's doing pretty well for himself financially. Until one day, the tides turn.....

George's business partner, who happens to be his Uncle, misplaces $8,000. Now remember, this was 1947 - and people were earning "about" $1,200/year. So to make a comparison to today, where the average American earns about $36,000/year, George Bailey's losses would be about $175,000 - $200,000. Not exactly what I'd consider "chump change."

At this point in time, George goes into a major depression. His Uncle, who has no idea what happened with this money, is under George's direction, so George is essentially to "blame."

George goes into a tizzy when he hears what has happened. He flips out on his Uncle, holding him by the collar of his shirt and even pushing him down into his chair.

His behavior gets worse when he gets home and winds up yelling at his daughter who is practicing on the piano for her recital. He also yells at his wife and other children - for no fault of their own. Before he leaves the house, he goes into another tantrum and pushes over a table with some items on them, that crash into the ground and break.

George leaves the house in a huff, and heads to his companies chief competitors place of business, asking for an $8,000 loan. George even volunteers to put his life insurance, valued at $15,000, on "collateral" until he can pay back the loan; which is when Mr. Potter, the owner of the other business tells George, "You're worth more dead, than alive." A pure comment of disgust from Mr. Potter, a man who always put profit over people.

At this point in time, George appears to become even more depressed. His life seems like it is worth nothing at this point in time - and he begins to contemplate suicide by jumping off a bridge and into the icy river below. Charlie crashes his car into a tree (he is drunk at this point in time) and walks over to the bridge where he looks to selfishly end his own life.

Before he has the chance, Clarence, an angel sent down from Heaven (almost like a guardian angel of sorts) to keep George from killing himself; jumps into the river first, forcing George to instantaneously go from suicidal to savior "mode." Remember George once jumped into icy waters to save the life of his younger brother, Harry Bailey, many years ago.

George reprimands Clarence for trying to kill himself. Clarence in turn reprimands George, telling him that he (Clarence) jumped in to save George. Complicated? Not as much as it may sound.

Soon after Clarence and George discuss the current "challenges" facing George; Mr. Bailey tells Clarence what all of us at one point in time or another have probably selfishly said; "I wish I were never born." With those simple words, Clarence gives George the opportunity to see something that pretty much all of us, will never have the chance to see - how the world around us would be different if our presence in this world was non-existent.

George takes him to "Martini's" - or what was Martini's when Charlie was alive. The new place - which is called by a name that I can't think of right now - is owned/managed by Martini's second-in-command (in George's "real world"). This guy, who is the nicest guy in George's "real world" - is a real JERK. I'm talking jerk with a capital "J." He is crude and rude to Clarence and George and eventually throw them out of the bar - for no legitimate reason.

Before they leave, one of George's former employers - the pharmacist who in a moment of madness tried to put poison in one of the medications for a customer of his - walks in. He is disheveled; hair going in 87 different directions. George approaches him to find out that the pharmacist has no idea who he is and finds out that the pharmacist wound up going to jail because he did poison (and kill) the boy many years ago - since George wasn't around to stop him.

George continues and sees that his town, "Bedford Falls," is now called "Pottersville" - after Mr. Potter, the ruthless businessman who put profit before people. Since George wasn't there to take over his dad's business, Mr. Potter took it over and pushed all of the poor out of town, and replaced many homes with businesses.

George's "home" - that where he, his wife and children resided in - is not even close to being livable. It's a dilapidated home that was never fixed up, because George was never alive to fix it up.

Soon after, George goes to an area where he (the "alive" George Bailey) built many affordable homes for the "less than rich" of Bedford Falls. When he gets there - he sees a cemetery. Why? Because George was never alive to build the homes. However, something more startling catches George's eye when he gets there.

It is the tombstone that reads "Harry Bailey 1911-1919." Since George wasn't around to jump in the water and save his younger brother Harry, Harry died that day when he fell into the icy waters while sledding.

In fact, Harry - who in the "real world" was a World War II hero; flying many tours of duty over Europe, and saving 100s of lives aboard an aircraft carrier, when he shot down a German fighter plane that was tumbling toward the aircraft carrier. Well unfortunately all those lives (the 100s aboard the aircraft carrier) were lost - because Harry was never there to shoot the plane. All because George was never born - and obviously not able to save Harry.

Mr. Bailey then goes looking for his wife, who according to Clarence was an "old maid." George finds her after she leaves the library where she worked, pleading with her to remember him. Mary (the wife) runs away scared because George was never alive to dance with her; to fall in love with her; to marry her, or to have children with her. Mary runs into a local establishment, filled with people screaming for the police's help. George, frazzled and pretty much "freaked out" at this time - starts running and running through the snowstorm.

He keeps running until he returns to the very spot where he was thinking of committing suicide - the bridge that overlooked the icy waters below. It is at this moment when George realized the effects that he had on other people - how although $8,000 was significant, it was definitely not the end of the world. His life and the love that he had for his fellow human, was MUCH more valuable than that.

George, after praying and asking for Clarence's help - "returns" to the "real world" - that where George Bailey DOES exist. He runs back to his home, where a money collector and some police await him with a warrant for his arrest.

Mr. Bailey however, doesn't even bat an eye when he sees them. He runs upstairs to see the biggest blessing in his life - his children; hugs them all, and apologizes for his misbehavior. In the meantime his wife, who was worried sick about him, returns - and George hugs her and holds onto her with more love ever before seen. He finally realizes the treasure that he has in his wife and his children.

But that is when the giving person that George is - always trying to help his fellow man - comes back to help him. Hearing that George was in a bind, slowly, but surely - numerous friends, neighbors and acquaintances of him and his family come inside, putting money into a big basket that one of the neighbors brought in to collect funds. Before you know it, there are 100s of people inside the Bailey household; all bringing whatever available money they have - to help bring George out of his dilemma.

Finally, George recoups all of the misplaced $8,000 and the title of the story, "It's a wonderful life" is so obvious. Clarence, the angel leaves him a book - a tangible sign that what happened was real - with the inscription, "George, no man is a failure who has friends."

And when you really think about it; that statement is oh so true. It is in your friends that you find treasure. No good friend is worth any amount of money - as that friendship is priceless, and to put a pricetag on that friendship, is to essentially limit the beauty that is the "amistad."

That is the beauty of life; not the tangible - but the intangible. The friendships that you are blessed to have and the family that you are blessed to have. You cannot put a pricetag on those. Both are priceless gifts from God, which are to be treated as such.

If you find yourself without those true friends, then maybe you are with the "wrong group" of people. Find like-minded people who will treat you with respect and pick you up when you are down - not push you down even further. Those people are a dime a dozen, and only God knows there are too many people like that here.

A final intangible is your health. My grandma ALWAYS says at this time of year, "Have a Happy and Healthy New Year!" And in true form, my dad (grandma's son) proves that the proverbial "fruit doesn't fall too far from the tree" when he always tells me that "Your health is your wealth."

With regard to Grandma's "New Year's" wishes; it certainly is a lot easier to have a happy new year when it involves having your own health, and that of your loved ones. And with regard to dad's "health is wealth" - well, nothing could be more true. Think about people who die prematurely because of cancer, AIDS, other diseases; even suicide as a result of diagnosed or undiagnosed depression. If you have an incurable illness, no matter if you are Bill Gates - the richest person in the world - or John Doe - the poorest person in your town - no amount of money will cure that illness.

You can't simply say, "Doctor, here's three million dollars - take away my cancer!!" It's not as easy as that. Same goes with AIDS - although progress is being made. And mental health - well, when you think you have seriously gone "out of your mind" and are scared to say anything at all (because in all honesty, no one wants to be perceived as being "crazy") - that can lead to suicide.

The beauty of depression - if there is a beauty - is that it is also called, "the fearful gift." Fearful because when you are feeling clinically depressed - you're scared sh-tless (pardon my french). In particular when you are clinically depressed (you have the symptoms), but you don't know what the symptoms are, because you don't know that how you feel "has a name."

The gift? That's the beauty of the realization of how easy life becomes to enjoy because of the hardships that you (and your family in many cases) have overcome. Life kicks ass! Life Rocks! Life is God's most precious gift and should be treated as such.

In retrospect, that's what George Bailey did - he saw (thanks to his angel, Clarence) what was really important in life. George saw the difference that he had made in others lives - and how his entire life, through what he had done both directly and indirectly, had allowed others to either live, or improve their lives because of his kindness. You, the person reading this - have had that same effect. Maybe you didn't save your brother from icy waters (or maybe you did!); but at the same time, what you say/do to and for others can definitely influence their outlook on life.

I'll go into further detail about how "It's a wonderful life" can parallel any of our lives in my next "blog" - but for now, wanted to give you this to digest, and the following quotes to end on:
"The worst solitude is to be destitute of sincere friendship." (Francis Bacon); "My friends have made the story of my life. In a thousand ways they have turned my limitations into beautiful privileges, and enabled me to walk serene and happy in the shadow cast by my deprivation." (Helen Keller).

It is in particular with this second quote that we'll pick up on soon........
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