If I could wish for you to have one moment in your life, it would be to be George Bailey at the end of “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
The movie goes like this. George Bailey is an affable small town banker, he owns the Savings and Loan. He doesn’t do anything particularly special in his life, not like his kid brother who saves a bunch of people during World War II. No, George just plods along, a member of the community, a good, stand up guy. Like when he saved his brother who fell through the frozen lake. When he helped his boss Mr. Gower, a pharmacist, who filled the wrong prescription after hearing about the death of his son. When he used his honeymoon money to fortify the bank during a run in the Great Depression. By keeping his somewhat forgetful uncle on the payroll.
The movie still holds up as a classic. There’s a good love story, where George marries Mary, the town librarian. There’s a bad guy, named Mr. Potter, who personifies selfishness and greed. All of this comes to a head, when Uncle Billy loses a whole bunch of money, and George has to figure out what to do. Potter informs him he was worth more dead than alive, which leads George to contemplate suicide. But an angel jumps in the water ahead of him, to save him, because George jumps in to save the angel.
Stop the presses. An angel? What? Darcy, have you finally lost your senses?
Give me a moment.
The angel, named Clarence, grants George Bailey the ability to see what life would be without him for those he loves. Predictably, it goes badly, it turns out George was needed for lots of reasons. It’s a Christmas story after all, showing that the small deeds that you do really add up to those around you, seen and unseen. George decides to go back to his life, warts and all, and take the consequences of the lost money. Yet, he comes back to a houseful of neighbors who give him money to keep the Bailey Building and Loan afloat.
Really, to me, the story is about the power of community to bind together and support each other. George is a member of the community and he takes it seriously. And when he is in trouble or in need, the community binds together around him too. That’s what community does.
When we moved to Vermont, I wasn’t really used to being in a community, for a variety of reasons. Michael and I had moved around a lot in search of careers, and we hadn’t really settled down yet. When we arrived in our small town in Vermont, and Wendy was just a year and a half old, we finally got to really meet our neighbors through playdates and pot lucks. When Wendy got sick two years later, they really took care of us by mowing our lawn, shoveling our snow, raking our leaves, and feeding our cats. When we got home there was a round of casseroles sent to us. My work called me into an emergency meeting which was really a surprise birthday party. Michael’s colleagues not only donated lots and lots of sick days so he could be with us in Massachusetts, but when we got back, they held a benefit to help us with the medical bills.
Years later, when we decided to move to Massachusetts to be closer to Wendy’s medical home, I really, truly, believed that we were never going to find a community as inclusive and loving as we had in Vermont.
And yet, we did.
We live in an amazing community in Massachusetts, filled with compassionate families whom we like to call friends. I was reminded of George Bailey because we recently had a bake sale, to help to raise money to get Wendy to the World Transplant Games in Spain next year. I approached the soccer league to see if it was possible, and the President jumped through what seemed like a million hoops to make it work. We had a week to pull one together, so I asked about a dozen friends if they would help me bake. Then this past Saturday we put out a table at rec soccer practice, with a jar for open donations.
The results were staggering. Not only did everyone bake, but people were more than generous in their donations. They kept saying, “Anything for Wendy,” and “She’s such a great kid, how could you not?” It was a heartwarming day, not only because we made double what I anticipated we would make, but because it showed that we as a family, and Wendy in particular were loved and appreciated.
I want to say that we are lucky, because we are.
But to be fair, we do our fair share of contributions to the community as well. If a community is a garden, then it needs to be well tended to. And I like to think that we tend to that garden in a meaningful way, through volunteering and carpools, potlucks, and fundraisers. I’m just saying that community is a give and take endeavor. You give what you can, you take when you need, and the people around you support you.
I hope that one day, everyone has the “Wonderful Life” moment where they feel supported by the community that they have given so much to over the years.
If you haven’t seen the movie I would recommend it. It’s regularly on the top 100 lists of all time great movies. Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed are incomparable. And make sure you watch it in the original black and white. I don’t think I’m spoiling anything when I say that it’s a happy ending, and Clarence leaves a note for George written in a copy of “Tom Sawyer.”