As a teacher for many years, as a school volunteer, and simply as a human being, I’ve often asked myself if my life has made a difference. Long ago, I wasn’t sure. Now, I am. I’ve touched many lives in all these decades and I smile when people’s names come back. It’s true that I rarely get any hard evidence that I made a contribution, hardly anyone returning from a far off time to say thank you, but still I know.
Tonight I watched the film It’s A Wonderful Life. George Bailey takes over the Bailey Brothers Building and Loan in Bedford Falls after his father dies, even though he yearns for a life of adventure. His brother Harry is the one having the thrills and spills as a fighter pilot in World War II. After the evil and powerful Mr. Potter steals money from the Building and Loan, George faces foreclosure and possibly prison. He looks down into the winter waters of the local river, and moves towards jumping off the bridge.
Enter Clarence, George’s guardian angel. Clarence decides to show George what would have happened if he had not been born:
1. George wouldn’t have been there to save his 9-year-old brother who slipped through the ice. So Harry wouldn’t have been there to shoot down the enemy plane that was about to bomb an Allied ship full of seamen.
2. George wouldn’t have been there for Mary to fall in love with. So she finished her days as an old maid librarian.
3. Mr. Martini was refused a business-saving loan by Mr. Potter, money that George would have lent. Instead of the flourishing Martini’s Bar – a centre of community relationship – there was Nick’s, where if you pissed off the owner, a bouncer would throw you into the street.
4. As a young boy working in the pharmacy, George noticed that the pharmacist had made a prescription mistake, inadvertently putting poison into pills meant for a little kid. But George wasn’t there. The boy died and the pharmacist spent years in prison, returning to Bedford Falls as a skid row drunk.
5. Uncle Billy was supported emotionally and financially by his nephew George. But George wasn’t there, and the woes of the Bailey Building and Loan led Billy to an insane asylum.
6. And Bedford Falls? No, it was Potterville. Mr. Potter owned virtually everything, and gouged his renters and borrowers.
At the end of the movie, grateful citizens came to George with cash to keep the Building and Loan afloat. They hugged him with smiles as wide as the ocean. And they sang:
We’ll drink a cup of kindness yet
For Auld Lang Syne
I’m smiling now
I’ve offered a cup or two of kindness in my days
Ours is a wonderful life