Twenty-five years ago I sat in an itchy brown chair in a brown paneled den, flipping through channels to escape the heat of a scorching summer day. I landed on a black-and-white movie that was just beginning, though I didn’t catch the name. Several minutes in, I was hooked.
Some kids were using shovels to sled down a hill, and one of them went too far and plunged into icy water. I had to see what happened next. I was instantly captivated by the scene’s hero, George Bailey. The movie turned out to be It’s a Wonderful Life. It also turned out to be my all-time favorite. Ever.
I can’t think of a movie that I have loved as long or that speaks to me as this movie has. Even then, as an awkward sixth-grader, wondering when boys would ever notice me (and they didn’t for many, many years) and dealing with friendship woes and other social plagues, I could see how life can get the better of you. I could see how a person who has so much doesn’t see the difference he makes every day, and how attitude and loved ones can pull you through life’s rough patches.
I spent an entire afternoon in that chair, running to the bathroom between commercial breaks or bolting to the kitchen for a bag of chips. I didn’t want to miss a second.
I pulled for George Bailey. I learned that sometimes life doesn’t turn out like you expect it to, but you roll with it and make the best of it, just like George Bailey did. He didn’t have much. But he had so much. The gift of family and friends, happiness and good health, and doing good for others. Wealth can’t buy any of that. It didn’t for Mr. Potter.
Each year, when George Bailey sees what a good life he has and runs through the snow-covered streets, I’m there, yelling, “Merry Christmas, George Bailey!” through teary eyes and a lump in my throat because it still moves me. Every year, this movie is a reminder that I have everything I need.
It is a wonderful life. Your family and friends are your riches, and life is what you make of it. That’s what a sixth grader learned on a hot summer day. Merry Christmas, George Bailey.