Well, I’ve done it again. I have wasted two perfectly good hours watching a simplistic, morality tale, populated by one dimensional characters and full of over the top, religious gobbledygook. And what do I do at the end of this useless exercise…I cry. Clarence gets his wings, everybody in town turns into Lawrence Welk, and I go to pieces. Jeez…I should be doing something to improve my character. You know, like reading War & Peace or something…
OK – so I respect Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life” more than I’m letting on…. but why? What is it about this old Christmas film that gets me going more than anything else during the season? Let me explain.
I have a theory. It involves two universes. You see, I believe that there are dual realities in this world. To simplify this cosmic concept, let just say that you either live in Bedford Falls or you live in Pottersville. Before you click this essay closed, believing that John is a simplistic dreamer, let me flesh this out a bit.
In Bedford Falls, there are slums. You don’t see them, but there is a great deal of discussion about people getting out of “Potter’s Field”, the rundown slums owned by Mr. Potter. I suspect that the bars and strip clubs shown when George discovers that his world has been turned upside down also exist in Bedford Falls. They are over near Potter’s Field. Bedford Falls and Pottersville are the same place. It’s all in the way you look at your world.
So, what makes the difference? Why, you of course. As the Buddhists would ask, are you aware and fully present in your world? If you are engaged in your world, you can shape it. You can make a difference.
Have you ever realized that most Christmas stories are about alienation? Scrooge is estranged from his community. Charlie Brown feels like an outsider, looking in on the holiday. Rudolph and the toys from the Land of Misfit Toys are…well…misfits. Maureen O’Hara was hurt by a man, so she tries to eliminate fantasy - and half the population - from her world. Even the Grinch talks about what “they” do.
Frank Capra turns this concept on its head. He takes a good man; a real mensch, and he shows the man what the world would be like without him. Both sets of story lines end up at the same place, but George doesn’t learn how to be a good man, he learns that he already is a good man and to appreciate his impact on the world. I find that very powerful.
According to my cosmic concept, how involved you are with all the other beings that you come in contact with defines the place you live in – Bedford Falls or Pottersville. Compassion is the coin of the realm. The more you put yourself out there, the more your world looks like Bedford Falls. The less you put out, the more it looks like Pottersville. As Clarence says “each man’s life touches so many others”. Being mindful of who you touch and how changes you and the ripples get bigger and go farther out from you.
When I am in Bedford Falls, I believe in my own power to make a change in the world. I know that I am a citizen who wants the best, not only for myself, but for all my friends, family and neighbors. I know that to reach this goal, I will have to put in some serious blood, sweat and tears. I love what I have built so far and I want to own the dream that I have for the future.
When I am in Pottersville (where I reside on occasion), I believe in my own power to take care of myself. I know that as a consumer who wants the best, I will have to scrutinize those who are looking to cheat me. I will have to work hard to get mine. I am proud that I’m taking care of myself and don’t need others to make it in the world. The world is simply there. And there are times when I wish it was better than it is. More like I remember it being from my childhood. But that is not my problem.
So…where do you live? Do you live in Pottersville, or in Bedford Falls? I try my best to spend most of my time in Bedford Falls, but it can be tough sometimes. This year was especially tough. I had more than my fair share of dealing with Mr. Potter in 2011.
So…sometime this weekend, I will silently raise a glass to George Bailey, “the richest man in town”. I will indulge in a bit of envy, greedy for more of what he had, and I will resolve to work hard in the next year to get more. Greed and envy – odd words to use for a desire for more connectedness.
In the spirit of that sentiment, I ask you to join me in a little ritual.
Think of your “place” in its totality; the good and the bad, and say with me…
“Merry Christmas, Bedford Falls”!
And think of your work; that place you spend a big part of your life, and say with me…
“Merry Christmas, You Old Building and Loan”!
And think of those who have caused you pain, intentionally or not, and say with me…
“Merry Christmas, Mr. Potter”!
Now – go hug those you love. And tell them you love them.
Merry Christmas, Everyone!