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It’s a wonderful life

| Monday, January 23, 2023

During the Christmas season, “It’s a Wonderful Life” never fails to put the world into perspective. And I am sure that this 1946 movie placed plenty of things into perspective for lead actor for James Stewart. The acclaimed late actor, who plays main character George Bailey, was a military veteran of World War II. Stewart felt he was not ready to take on the role so shortly after the war, but after much convincing from producers, he accepted. Jimmy Stewart suffered greatly from post-traumatic stress disorder, and this PTSD he suffered from the war made it difficult for Stewart to return to civilian life. Eventually, Stewart used this PTSD for the emotions of George Bailey when he decided to take on the role. 

After the film’s release, Stewart told the press that he related greatly to his character of George Bailey. For Stewart, the scenes of a man self-labeled as a failure acting out in anger proved to be “cathartic” for him in the recovery of his mental health. It would seem likely that a wave of gratitude followed Stewart in his transition from active duty to a return to the silver screen. Self-gratitude for life, health, good fortune perhaps. George Bailey certainly learns gratitude in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” The movie follows George from early childhood to adulthood, as the selfless man makes his way through life giving the most of himself to others and doing the right things not because he wants to, but because they need to be done. One of my favorite scenes in the movie falls on Black Tuesday, 1929. A newlywed and a successful family bank owner, George and his wife give their entire honeymoon fund to customers in need of liquidity, and George quickly becomes a noble folk hero to many. 

But this sheer selflessness begins to be too much. When George’s Uncle Billy loses thousands needed for the bank’s liquidity, George falls into deep despair. Contemplating suicide, George only snaps out of his trance when he saves another man’s life from a suicide attempt. This man turns out to be the wingless heavenly Angel, Clarence. And through granting George the perspective of never being born, Clarence is able to invigorate George with a new lease on life, a life filled with gratitude, clarity and thankfulness. George sees what his world would look like without him in it and is enlightened. It is this gratitude, emotion and storytelling that cause me to cry every time at the end of the movie. Truly, a masterpiece. 

Like George Bailey and Jimmy Stewart, I also find great life perspectives upon my annual screening of “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Through adversity, my Catholic faith has helped me to see that I am “enough,” and through this perspective I have limited anxiety, indecision and self-sabotage that have ran rampant in the hearts and minds of our generation. 

“It’s a Wonderful Life” often reminds me as well of an encounter from my childhood, an encounter that just marked its tenth anniversary this January. On the Feast of the Epiphany in 2013 (NFL Wild Card Weekend is how I remembered it as a kid), my uncles introduced George to my siblings and me after Sunday Mass. A gentle giant at 6-foot-5, George was a young man my uncles had befriended who worked for an auto racing company they were involved in. George was a drifter, and seemingly had lost interest in his everyday life. George was in desperate need of fulfillment and purpose, and thanks to the persistence and kindness of my uncles, they brought George back to the Sacraments he had long since forgotten. George received the Eucharist and Reconciliation, and much of that day I remember revolving around that mass, laughs and a great meal. What else do you need in life, right? 

A week later, George passed away. Black ice in Chicago can be deadly, and George’s car took a turn for the worst, leading to his tragic death in automobile accident. My dad took several of my siblings and myself to the wake, and it was at this wake that George’s father granted us some insight. In the week between meeting George and his death, my little sister had drawn George several cards centered around our family’s thoughts and prayers for his wellbeing. George’s dad relayed to us that when the accident scene was investigated, those cards containing messages of faith, hope and charity were on the dashboard of George’s car. In that heap of twisted metal, perhaps George’s last moments of life revolved around that jovial encounter we had enjoyed just one week before. I am thankful that my uncle’s acted in the role of Clarence, the angel tasked with setting George Bailey’s life back on track. Thanks to their efforts, we can hope with enthusiasm that George left our Earth in the state of grace. 

When I think of George Bailey and our friend George, I am often reminded of a wise quote that follows me around in in the best of ways. “To the world you just might be one person, but to one person, you just might be the world.” To so many people that are feeling overwhelmed, burnt out, despaired or despondent, I hope this quote makes its way into your life. Because if it does, I hope it impacts you in the way it has me. I am pulling for you, and of course, praying for you.  

Stephen Viz is a one-year MBA candidate and graduate of Holy Cross College. Hailing from Orland Park, Illinois, his columns are all trains of thoughts, and he can be found at either Decio Cafe or in Mendoza. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @StephenViz.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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