I guess I’ve been hoping for a George Bailey to come along and give us that speech from “It’s a Wonderful Life” where George diffuses a run on the Bailey Building and Loan by explaining that, especially in hard times, we’re all in this together. Though traditionally a Christmas movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” is full of lessons perfectly suited for these challenging economic times.
In the bank scene, George reminds everyone that money is more than an actual pile of currency sitting in a vault.
George tells Charlie, who’s demanding his balance of $242: “The, the money’s not here. Well, your money’s in Joe’s house … that’s right next to yours. And in the Kennedy House, and Mrs. Macklin’s house, and, and a hundred others.
"Why, you’re lending them the money to build, and then, they’re going to pay it back to you as best they can.”
George knows that everyone will have to do their part, to the best of their ability, so that everyone can be OK in tough times. In this case, the town’s bank has also just gone under and won’t reopen for another week.
George tells each of his crowd of panicking customers, “Now, we can get through this thing all right. We’ve got to stick together, though. We’ve got to have faith in each other.”
But the crowd’s worries surface.
“But my husband hasn’t worked in over a year and I need money.”
“How am I going to live until the bank opens?”
“I got doctor bills to pay.”
“I need cash.”
“I can’t feed my kids on faith.”
Realizing he has his $2,000 of honeymoon money in his pocket, he uses it to replace the money that careless Uncle Billy has lost to the town villain, Mr. Potter.
One by one, George asks, “Wh-wh-what’ll it take till the bank opens? What do you need?”
And the first couple guys ask for their full balances but then Ed, and then Mrs. Thompson, say they can get by on $20. Then Mrs. Davis says she just needs $17.50. With only $2 left, the Bailey Building and Loan makes it to the end of the day and the Building and Loan survives the crisis.
After the panic is over, George, now with empty pockets, discovers that his new wife — whose honeymoon trip is now impossible — has done the same thing as George, taken a difficult situation and turned it into goodness. George comes home to their first married night together to find that Mary has transformed an old abandoned house into a Shangri-la with dinner, candlelight, and travel posters of all the places that they were headed to see.
Of course, those early scenes in the movie are not what the movie is famous for. The story really moves to show us a despairing George, years later, who is made to see what true preciousness he has in his life and how all the good, generous, kind things he’s done for years has made a profound difference for his family, friends, his town, and indeed the world.
Right now, we need to recognize how important it is not to feed worry and fear. It’s more powerful to act and live with intention, optimism, kindness, and generosity, especially in an uncertain world. We all have parts of George Bailey in us — the scared, resentful, despairing George and the optimistic, loving, resourceful George — and each day we have a choice of which part we want to live by…. in this “wonderful life.”
Terre Thomas owns Fairy Godmother, a gift store in Calhoun Square and she and her family live in the Lyndale neighborhood. She can be reached at YFGodmother@aol.com.