Being George Bailey

6 Feb

george 2me 2There’s nothing like bopping down the highway when suddenly you are struck with the strangest, yet potentially the truest thought you have ever had.  When pondering a certain dilemma in life, my mind said to myself (We do a lot of talking.), “It’s just like when George Bailey is saving the savings and loan.”  It could have stopped there.  It could have remained a brief moment with a pop culture tie-in, but it didn’t.  While initially my mind drew comparisons between my circumstances and that one scene, it continued and I found myself nodding my head (as I continued to talk to myself) as I considered other moments of poor George’s life I could relate to.  When I had a stunning, and maybe upsetting … or maybe not … I’m not sure … realization that I am George Bailey.

When I say this, I don’t mean to imply that I resemble actor Jimmy Stewart in any way shape or form.  (His hair is definitely shorter than mine.) Rather, I mean that my life’s purpose is running my own variation of the ol’ Bailey’s Savings and Loan.  What instigated this whole train of thought was my mind mulling over how to explain to some participants our program about community.  I frequently have to defend my decision to charge some families less than full price for classes.  I have to explain that not all families, particularly these days, have enough income to provide their children with the opportunity to follow their passions, learn with friends or be a part of a community.  And I’m going to delete the remainder of my rant here …  This is when George Bailey jumps into my head.  I hear him  as he pleads with his depositors when they demand their full balance, threatening to close down the Savings & Loan.  Some insisting on receiving their full balance … Finally he is blessed when in amongst crowd a humble woman approaches asking for a meager amount to make it through.  Even George had a hard time helping people understand community … I can SO relate.

If I had left it there, that would have been a lovely little analogy.  However as I considered George’s life further, I realized that the parallels continued.

George’s family leads a modest life.  Their home is in disrepair, and he is often frustrated with their financial situation.  While he could choose to move on and let the Savings and Loan be consumed by big business (aka Mr. Potter), he doesn’t.  He walks away from opportunities and his dreams to travel the world … He rejects business opportunities that could change his world …He watches as his friends and his family move on and seem to be living the dream.  

It is not a rare occurrence in this house, when I suggest I should get a “real” job that makes money and has a start and end time.  We have broken windows, half lit ceiling lights, leaking plumbing and a dishwasher that has served exclusively as kitchen decor since it stopped working over two years ago.  I tamp the jealousy and envy that seeps up from time to time, as I read about my friends latest adventures or new cars … I remember what it was like when I was a professional that wore suits and “did lunch.”  The ol’ Savings and Loan definitely comes at a price.

While there are these obstacles that George is occasionally confronted with, more often than not, he is blessed by the relationships he has built because he stayed and continued on at the Savings and Loan.  We think of the blessing of Mr. Martini’s home and his ability to be there for Violet when she needs to start over.

I am so blessed to be a part of so many families’ lives.  To know that I make a difference, and that if I chased after the big job or the new car, people wouldn’t have something important is huge!  To be a part of a community and defend the right for all families to have a degree of self-respect and pride.  It is so special to answer a friend’s call; to be able to drop everything if necessary and be there.  I have so many truly dear friends, and have the chance to live an authentic life.

All is not always sunshine and roses for George though.  Even though he has committed himself to the people of Bedford, sometimes the obstacles mount up against him to the point that he is haunted by the possibility of ruin and shame.  This never more evident than when Uncle Billy “loses” the  bank deposit the day that bank examiner arrives.  George crumbles under the weight, thrashing emotionally as he tries to grasp the dire straits he is facing.

All it seems to take is a mismarked decimal, a nonpaying student or an unexpected bill, and I, like George, am reeling crushed under the fear of having the world cave in on me.  I worry that I won’t be able to fulfill my promises, or that I won’t be able to buy groceries.  I imagine my friends, and others, turning on me; angry that I have disappointed them and that I have mismanaged my situation.  I am afraid that my reputation will be ruined, and my teetering financial situation will finally crash and burn and all will be lost.

Before we get to carried away with ourselves, it is important to remember that George has his serious jerk moments.  He reaches a breaking point, and all that has been good in him day to day dissolves.  The same man who ensures the working man has a home of his own … who watches out for poor, lost Violet … who patiently endures Uncle Billy’s flakiness … who sacrifices his dreams for the sake of his brother … who is a friend to everyone … snaps and is cruel and unkind to his family, particularly his children.  He spits venom at them for reasons they don’t understand without any justification.  This man who yearns to make a better world, in one moment undermines it all as he unleashes on his family.

After too many nights of worry, it takes almost nothing to provoke anger in me at home.  I loose patience and act unfairly.  Once I withdraw, I am as despondent as George on the bridge when I consider how much my family sometimes endures.  The fatigue or stress will leave me impatient and unfocused.  I find myself behaving so entirely contrary to the person I yearn to be.  I become frustrated that I seem to be able to be kind and patient with so many people, but sometimes my own family – those I love most of all – suffer as I use up all that I have outside of our home.

When George finally decides he can’t go any further, he can no longer move on.  He is crushed despite all that he has done for his community.  He has reached his breaking point, and can’t find it within himself to endure another day.  It is at this point that God blesses him.  First he is blessed by Clarence the Angel who gives him perspective.  He is able to see the difference he has made.  Then all of those who have been blessed by George through the years come together and embrace him when he needs them most.  It is these moments of grace that save George’s life.

As far as I know, I have never been visited by an angel,but it does seem when I have reached the end of my rope … when I am in a heap on the ground and ready to give up, I will get a call … an email … or a visit where someone will let me know how much I matter.  They will help me see the way that Clarence did for George, that through small (and not very interesting) acts, my efforts have made a difference in the lives of others.  It is also in these moments, when I am crying in the shower because I’m not sure how I am going to be able to pay for a birthday present, or buy gas for the car, or get a kid the new shoes they need … someone will show up at my door with just the right gift.  It is through these affirmations that I feel God’s hand, and feel His encouragement to continue on.

We learn in It’s a Wonderful Life that George Bailey is just and ordinary man.  He doesn’t possess super strengths, and in fact without the help of his family and friends, he would be nothing.  However, his heart is tied to the people in his community.  Despite the obstacles he may face and the opportunities he has to turn away from, his community matters more.  How unlikely it is to suppose that I would be able to relate to this classic movie character that seemingly has nothing in common with me.  However, like him I am ordinary.  There is nothing special or exceptional.  I just have a heart for my community, and because of the support of my family and friends, I continue to live another day.

As a postscript … George Bailey had Mary.  He would have been lost without her.  She kept the world spinning while George was off saving the day … she stood by his side, and never second guessed his purpose.  While he is definitely not Donna Reed (and we are both grateful for that), Jeffrey is the unseen benefactor as he picks up loose pieces and affirms me sometimes daily.  Without him, I would be lost.

I’m sorry to ramble, but tragically (for you) my blogging time falls under the form of stream of consciousness and tends to be revision free … someday when I finally retire from the ol’ Savings & Loan, perhaps I will spend a little more time making my writing consumable.

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2 Responses to “Being George Bailey”

  1. David DeBriscoe February 6, 2014 at 10:44 pm #

    Joyce, as long as you believe and trust in The Lord he will always step in when all seems lost. I have seen this many times in my life. Love always Uncle Dave

    • joycemzrodgers February 7, 2014 at 1:43 am #

      Yepper … in fact, I’m going to be so bold as to say he has already stepped in, I just seem to notice Him more when all seems lost 🙂

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