Sunday, October 12, 2014

Lessons from George Bailey

One of my favorite movies of all time is It's a Wonderful Life. I love it for a lot of reasons, including that it stars Jimmy Stewart, one of the great treasures of Hollywood. Additionally, the message of true riches not being found in a bank account is such a beautiful theme that, I must admit, was lost on me for a long time.

There's a pivotal scene in which Jimmy Stewart's George Bailey and Mary Hatch (eventually Mary Bailey), played by Donna Reed in the best role of her career, are going home from a dance in which everyone falls in the pool when the dance floor atop it is opened. They're dressed ridiculously in whatever dry clothes they could find and singing, loudly and off key. At one point, things get quite serious and it seems like he's going to kiss her for the first time, but he falters. From a nearby porch, an old man who's been watching the scene in silence asks if he's ever going to kiss her instead of talking her to death. George says, "You want me to kiss her, huh?" The old man's reply is perfection: "Awww, youth is wasted on the wrong people!"

I've always adored that line, even when I was young and didn't fully understand why it was so apt. Now that I'm getting older, it makes more sense than it ever did before. I realize now that there's a major irony of life when it comes to what we want when we're young and what we want when we get older.

When I was younger, I wanted so much. New cars, a big house, a camper, vacations, a boat--so many toys! But I had no money. This was partly because I spent too much on little things that didn't matter, like going out to eat instead of cooking at home, and new computers and new cars that I really couldn't afford, although they weren't the new cars I really wanted. But it was also partly because I just didn't make as much money as I do now that I've been at my job a long time and have come close to maximizing my earning potential in my chosen field.

So now I'm still not rich, but I make so much more money than I did when I was younger. I'm nearly debt free, soon to be completely debt free if I'm careful, so I could probably soon afford some of those toys I so longed for when I was young. Now comes the ironic part: I don't really care about them anymore. A new car? Ellie, my aging beauty, is fine with me. We know each other. Boats? Campers? Lots of time and effort for too little enjoyment. A big house? Big bills, big time cleaning and maintaining. No thanks.

What do I want? Mostly things that don't cost much. God, friends, family, good health, love, and laughter. I want to be comfortable, but a cozy little house or even a small apartment would meet my needs. A quiet place to read, pray, write, cook (now that I could probably afford to eat out a little more, I love nothing more than to cook a nice pot of chili and eat at home), and spend time with people I love is plenty for me.

Sure, vacations are still nice, but the parts I love about them are the times spent with family and friends, not the exotic destination. Though I will admit that I am never more content than when looking out at the ocean, I can't imagine I would feel the same if I didn't have loved ones with me there to enjoy it.

This Christmas when It's a Wonderful Life comes on, I'll watch it again, like I do every year. And I'll love every minute of it--even the part where the daft Uncle Billy loses the money. But when that old man makes his declaration, his words will make more sense to me than ever before.

In case you want to see it, here's the scene in question:

1 comment: