(An excerpt from my book, You Make My Life Rich)
It’s a Wonderful Life
We all know Frank Capra’s 1946 classic movie It’s a Wonderful Life. Most of us catch the film around the holidays, as its final scenes are set during Christmastime. The film takes place in the town of Bedford Falls, a small, simple community that gives the impression the story could take place anywhere. The great James Stewart plays the lead character, George Bailey.
Bailey has aspirations for a great life. To him, this life consists of traveling the world, seeing marvelous sights, and experiencing grandeur that Bedford Falls cannot offer. However, after the financial crisis of the Great Depression and the death of his father, George finds himself putting his life on hold to run the family Savings and Loan. In his own mind, he never gets to live his dream. His dream of richness.
As the story unfolds, he runs into a financial crisis of his after his uncle misplaces a bank deposit. Convinced he is better off dead, George yells at his family and storms out of his house, distraught and hopeless. He heads for a bridge on that icy night. Cursing God for the life he’s lived and the situation he’s facing, he’s reached his final straw. As he contemplates his own life, hope appears in the form of a guardian angel, Clarence. Clarence arrives from above to give George a glimpse of his importance; the opportunity to experience the way the world might have been if he had never existed. As George travels to this alternate world, much to his dismay, the town of Bedford Falls has been run under by an old miser. Mr. Potter’s Pottersville is nothing like the town he knew and loved. His mother is an old widow and his wife is a lonely, unmarried librarian. His children do not exist.
This vision terrifies him and he looks up to God, pleading, “Take me back! I want to live again!” As he comes out of his revelation, George is a new man as he has seen, in great detail, the wonderful life he lives and the difference he has made in the lives of his family and his community. He runs through town shouting with joy, then bursting through his front door to embrace his family. As he realizes that he is still in his financial predicament, he is surrounded by friends and family who have come to his aid. His perspective has changed, his life renewed. His friends begin to pour into his living room and dump loads of money into a basket. Everyone has come together to help George in his time of need. Then, his little brother, Harry, bursts through the door declaring the line that resonates so deeply.
“Cheers to my big brother George, the richest man in town!”
I believe the success of It’s a Wonderful Life is due to the fact that it reminds us of our own condition. We question whether we’ve lived a wonderful life. It confirms what we know, yet refuse to believe. A great, wonderful life has everything to do with being rich, and being rich has very little to do with money.
Material possessions and financial well-being are simply a matter of perspective when someone embraces true riches. However, our world is consumed with this pursuit of material wealth. We are a society and a culture searching for life, longing for meaning and purpose. On every television station, reality shows portray the masses chasing their own version of rich. Most are riddled with disaster and failure, regardless of whether they get their riches or not.
I’ve found that people who desire richness take one of two paths.
There is the path of material abundance and luxury, the one reality television offers us. People running themselves ragged chasing a dream of riches. These people place their desire for wealth in the forefront of their minds, but it leads them into a comparison trap. When it comes to quantifying riches, someone always has more. Richer. Stronger. Smarter. Prettier. These comparisons leave people striving, longing to reach an unreachable goal.
The other path is that of those who have a desire for riches but are paralyzed by fear; scared to pursue it themselves. They would rather sit back and watch someone else hurt, than actually run the risk of hurting themselves. I think this explains the success of reality television. It’s not only watching someone else hurt, but their pain subconsciously reminds us of our own, and then consciously masks it from us. Additionally, the folks in this category may run from riches altogether, declaring it the great evil in the world. It’s not a fear of it, but rather a distaste.
Ultimately, both roads lead to a dead end. We are all searching for life abundant, but our metric has become skewed.
Is there another way?
Is there another path to richness that we can experience?
Maybe we have the right word, but the wrong definition. Maybe we should pursue richness with an understanding of its deeper meaning.
(An excerpt from Ch. 1 of You Make My Life Rich)
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