As I usually do over the Holidays, I watched one of my all-time favorite actors in one of my all time favorite movies and that's Jimmy Stewart in "It's a Wonderful Life". Co-starring Donna Reed and made in the 1940s, the movie was not critically acclaimed at the time, but over the years has become a stable of the Holiday Season. If you have not seen it, you need to, and if you have, then you all know it revolves around a small town businessman George Bailey from Bedford Falls, New York, who, as he grows up, has all of these dreams of doing wonderful things with his life, and hopes of traveling to all the farthest points in the world. His plans are constantly interrupted by world events and family circumstances, which include the death of his father, the great depression, and World War II. George's father and his Uncle Billy years earlier had started the Baileys Brothers Building and Loan to help the less fortunate people of Bedford Falls obtain the great American Dream of home ownership. Their only alternative is high rent or exorbitant interest rates to the local scrooge Mr. Potter. Uncle Billy is a classic ADHD type individual. An Irishmen, like me, who apparently has never been married, has a pet crow he carries around with him, and a pet squirrel at home. He is constantly worrying and has little self esteem.
George manages to support his family after marrying Mary, who is played by Donna Reed, and having a house full of children. He sees a lot of his friends go on to success in other areas, and gives up his hopes of travel and doing great things, as he is hopelessly attached to his fathers old Building and Loan business. George's younger brother Harry Bailey has inadvertently benefited from George his whole life, from the time George saved him from an icy death in a winter lake sledding accident, to Harry getting to go to college when George's father dies, forcing George to stay home. And finally, Harry going off to WWII and George having to stay at home, due to a loss of hearing in one ear from his heroic effort to save his brother in the icy lake years earlier. Harry goes on to win the Congressional Medal of Honor.
On the day of the welcome home celebration for Harry, Uncle Billy has eight thousand dollars of the Building and Loans money to deposit in the bank, and he runs in to the notorious scrooge Mr. Potter. Uncle Billy, in typical ADHD fashion, cannot pass up the opportunity to brag up his nephew Harry Bailey's heroics and the headlines in the paper about his welcome home celebration. Absentminded Uncle Billy accidentally wraps up the deposit money in the newspaper which he braggingly drops in Mr. Potters lap. When he goes to the bank teller to make the deposit, he realizes the money is missing, and having no clue as to what happened to it, frantically tries to retrace his steps back to the Building and Loan. Arriving back at the Building and Loan, he is in a panic trying to tear his office apart trying to figure out how to tell George what has happened.
When George comes in to the office in a great mood due to the upcoming celebration, Uncle Billy tells him of the problem. George drags Uncle Billy all around town trying to retrace his steps. Uncle Billy naturally continues to go downhill fast in guilt and self blame, which culminates at his house when George losses his temper and shakes his uncle, calling him a silly fool, and shaking him, asking him if he knows that this means scandal and bankruptcy and prison. George leaves a mess, leaving Uncle Billy sobbing with only his crow and squirrel to console him. George arrives home on Christmas Eve and begins taking things out on all those people he loves the most (sound familiar to any of you? - it does to me).
The premise of the whole movie began with God and an Angel second class named Clarence speaking to each other in the heavens about George. Clarence is trying hard to get his wings and become a full scale angel, but has to accomplish a task in order to do this. His task is to help George help himself get out of this mess. George, by this time, has swallowed his pride and even gone to Mr. Potter (who knowingly has the money Uncle Billy had left in his lap) and ask him for help. George tells Potter that HE has misplaced the money, which Potter knows is not the case. He responds by telling George he will call the Sheriff and swear out a warrant for his arrest for embezzlement and malfeasance of office. In his effort to offer collateral for a loan, George tells Potter he has 500 dollars equity in a whole life insurance policy. Potter tells him he is worth more dead than he is alive. George leaves and begins drinking and becomes intoxicated and gets in a fight at a local bar. After the fight he leaves in his car and runs into a tree in a heavy snowstorm. George arrives at the bridge across the river and thinks of Potters statement, and is contemplating suicide by jumping off the bridge when Clarence Angel second class arrives on the scene. Clarence throws himself in the river and begins screaming for help, knowing George will save him. George jumps in and saves Clarence, and they go into the railway station nearby to dry off and warm up. Clarence tells George he is an angel, which George mocks. While discussing things, George says everyone would be better off if he (George) had never been born. Clarence admonishes him for this, and George insists it's the truth. Clarence seizes on this as his chance, and tells George that if he really means it, he can make it so that George Bailey had never been born.
Clarence and George then begin a very enlightening journey around Bedford Falls which is now known as "Potterville" as George tries to find his family and friends. None of whom know him as he has never been born. They visit the bar that he and Clarence are thrown out. They go to the cemetery and discover Harry Bailey's tombstone from when he drowned at age 9, because George was not there to save him. George learns that all the men that Harry had saved to earn the Medal of Honor in WWII also died, because Harry was not alive to save them. He finds out Mary, his wife, is an old maid. His children do not exist. His mother is forced to operate a boarding house to support herself, as George was not there to take over the Building and Loan and support her. He finds out Uncle Billy has been in an insane asylum since George's father died, and the Building and Loan was voted out of business by its board of directors. George suddenly comes to the realization of what an impact he has made in other people's lives. He runs back to the bridge, desperately seeking his life and family back.
The town cop comes up and asks George if he is OK, and George realizes he is back to reality. He runs home to find out that all of his friends and family have come to his aid financially, and he will not be prosecuted. In the piles of money, he finds a book autographed by Clarence, thanking George for helping him get his wings.
The moral of the story and the message of this newsletter is that all of us are important, and have made a difference in people's lives. Even if some of us feel like we are the Uncle Billy's of our family, we are important and vital members of our families and friends lives. The world would be a lot less interesting and probably a lot poorer if any of us had never been born.
Wish all of you a wonderful 2005.
Patrick Hurley was on the Johnson County Sheriff's Department for 17 years (Lieutenant) and was an Adult Probation Officer for
5 years. He is currently a full time ADHD Life Skills coach