More on “It’s a Wonderful Life”

A few days ago, while writing about Will Smith’s new film The Pursuit of Happyness, I also found myself talking about the classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” starring James Stewart.

My L’il Bro Thom added his thoughts, and I wanted to share them:

It’s a very deceptive movie – froth and cream on top, but bitter and full of bile underneath. I know now why people were so upset when it was colorized in the 80s – it needs to be told in black and white. The scene when George Bailey returns to his house and sees it in ruins is devastating – and it’s made eerier and more upsetting when the cop shines his searchlight onto the building and the shadows loom darker and deeper.

And Bailey is a haunted, hurt man – when he finally loses it near the end you see how close he is to being a wife abuser and an adulterer, a deep-down cynic who turns on the world when the world turns on him.

And still, there is Clarence, the angel – with a name that means clarity, and that gives light – a character to soften the blows and absorb the knives.

And the final lesson is not really about the inherent goodness of man, despite the tinkling bells and tearful singing. It’s a stark post-war fable: no man is an island. For better or worse, life has consequences. When the movie came out, we were just entering the atomic age and the Cold War, and I have to wonder how many people dabbing at their eyes at the end really grasped the point.

We live none of us to ourselves, and everything we do, even if we are not “thinking” about it, not acting consciously, has a ripple effect, it reaches out and touches other lives, sometimes imperceptibly. Nature uses everything. So does the Holy Spirit. We think we’re going along in our own little spheres and that nothing we do matters…for good, or for evil…but it all matters, and the Holy Spirit takes everything we put out there and uses it.

I hurt my L’il Bro yesterday. I didn’t mean to, it was wholly unintentional…but it was insensitive and because it was insensitive it was needlessly cruel. I was needlessly cruel. I hate that. And who knows how far my cruelty will ripple, and extend the hurt?

That does seem to be the theme of my Advent musings, but some lessons I wish I could learn in other ways. The lesson is that I am still sometimes unthinking or inconsiderate or too aggressive, too full of my own Irish head of steam (and the pride that goes with it) and because all of that is true, I am still more of a destructor than anything else. The other lesson is that God still has an awful lot of work to do on me, and I must let Him. And that no matter how much we seek to improve ourselves, it’s a lost cause without the help of grace. Some of us need more help than others. I need a lot.

That is not me being picturesque. My neediness before God is not evidence of His favor but of all I am lacking. In the Rule of St. Benedict, the wise founder of Western Monasticism writes, “Let him who hath need of less thank God and not give way to sadness, but let him who hath need of more, humble himself for his infirmity, and not be elated for the indulgence shown him; and thus all the members will be at peace.”

Yesterday at Vespers we prayed in psalm 123:
Have mercy on us, Lord, have mercy.
We are filled with contempt.
Indeed all too full is our soul
with the scorn of the rich,
with the proud man’s disdain.

Some interpret the line to mean “we are tired of the rich and the proud hating us and beating us down…”

I’ve always read it as “we are too filled with contempt for others, our souls are full of scorn for others who may have more – we have within us the disdain that comes from pride…”

I’m probably reading it wrong, but that’s how it speaks to me…and today I have lived it and proved it. Most pathetically.

I have so much to learn.


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