Wednesday, December 22, 2010

George Bailey, Ebenezer Scrooge, and a Merry, Imperfect Christmas

Perhaps the reason I so admire the character of George Bailey in "It's a Wonderful Life" is because his family isn't perfect, and his life isn't either.  His father, Peter Bailey, is depicted as a caring but underachieving business man; his uncle, an irresponsible drunk.  George himself is often bitter and brooding at what life has dealt him, wearing disappointment and jealousies on his shirtsleeves until he is shown the true significance of his own life, of every life, courtesy of Clarence Goodbody, AS2.  What I admire about the relationships in this movie is the acceptance each character ultimately realizes in the embrace of family and friends.  Every life does matter.  Each person has a place in the world.  Whether we realize it or not, we all have a great deal of influence on the lives of those around us. 

Anticipation and planning for the Christmas holidays, particularly, are heightened with expectation and sometimes, anxiety.  We aspire to an impossible ideal and are being sold a bill of goods by advertisers who make us think that we have to behave like the images we see on television.  Commercials depict gloriously reunited family members who are ecstatic to be together once again.  In real life, I've never known any family quite so happy as the actors on television.  Real families are tempered -- happiness is often balanced with equal measures of disappointment and frustration.  It is in the acceptance of each other, flaws and all, that we find family balance, and just maybe the true spirit of Christmas.  I like to think of Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol, when Ebenezer Scrooge is welcomed into his nephew's home despite years of intentional disconnect and dismissal.  His nephew, always hopeful, still wants his uncle to share the holiday with his family and friends.  When he is finally welcomed into his nephew's home, the past is past and they enjoy each other in the present with acceptance and happiness.  It is a beautiful, liberating moment.

The parallels between A Christmas Carol and It's A Wonderful Life are evident.  Ebenezer Scrooge is guided to see his actual life as it was, as it is, and how it will be if he doesn't change his ways.  It's a harsh lesson but one that finds him rejuvenated and jubilant, loving every second from the moment he wakes, home again in his own bed.  George Bailey, guided by angel Clarence Goodbody, experiences his life's world without him in it, and is able to see first-hand just how he has impacted the lives of the people he loves, and what their world, and the greater world, would be like had he never been born. 

Individuals are just that, individuals, each with particular talents and quirks.  At Christmas time, when the focus on family is sharpened, quirks might seem prominent. We often have more patience, tolerance, and acceptance for those we don't love, who aren't related to us, than we do for those with whom we share a family bond, something I find oddly curious.

At this very special time of year, my Christmas prayer is that every one of us knows the love and acceptance of family and friends.  If you have a family member who is alone this holiday, welcome her in.  If you have a friend who is feeling disconnected, reconnect.  Don't rehash the past.  Forgive. Let go.  Live forward.  Make that phone call.  Pay a visit.  Say hello and that you are thinking of that person.  You have nothing to lose, and just might make a big difference in someone's life, or even your own.

I wish you all a Merry, imperfect Christmas.  Enjoy every minute!

"God bless us, every one."  -- Tiny Tim, in Charles Dickens's  A Christmas Carol

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