In Frank Capra’s “It’s A Wonderful Life,” George Bailey is faced with a decision: to leave his small bank Home and Loan — a pillar of the community and representative of all that is true and good — to work for big banker Henry Potter, or not.
Potter offers Bailey a huge yearly salary of $20,000 and the opportunity to do what Bailey has wanted since he was young: to “[shake] the dust of this crummy little town off [his] feet” and “see the world.” To do this, however, Baily must give up the virtuous Home and Loan.
At first, George tells Mr. Potter that he needs some time to consider the offer. But as soon as he shakes Mr. Potter’s ham-of-a hand, George draws back in clear realization of what he has semi-agreed to.
“No . . . no . . . no . . . no, now wait a minute, here! I don’t have to talk to anybody! I know right now, and the answer is no! NO! Doggone it!”
As the film progresses, George encounters financial difficulty to the point where he is, due to a $15,000 life insurance policy, worth more money dead than alive. Faced with bankruptcy and potential imprisonment due to the near failure of Home and Loan, George is fraught with thoughts that he has failed his family, and he resolves to drown himself in a river so that his family may keep their heads financially above water.
After an emotionally jarring divine sight, however, George releases his obsession with financial concerns in realization that the most important thing, no questions asked, is time spent with his wife and four children: his beloved family.
Although the film makes the case that the love of family is the more important than wealth, and even financial security, what “It’s A Wonderful Life” doesn’t reveal is what happens after George Bailey embraces his family and the credits roll. But I know what happens, and I can say that it truly is wonderful.
In December 2010, my Dad quit his partnership at a financially successful lawfirm and, at the cost of financial security, has worked from home ever since. Doing so has resulted in financial insecurity, but the decision my father made has been worth every dollar unearned an more, and I’m sure George Baily and his family would feel the same way.
For the most of the past three years I’ve seem my father every day. We’ve worked, eaten, loved, enjoyed and grown alongside each other, and the closeness that I feel with him now is immeasurable; it is not something I would give up for any “ribbons,” for any “tags,” for any “packages, boxes or bags,” as the Grinch might say.
George Bailey’s decision was a leap of faith. Although he loved his family, and by the end of the film understood his choice to be the right one, I can promise you that he did not realize the full potential of what was to come.
The closeness and unity that a family can achieve with time, even if it means uncertainty about the material future, is worth making any “sacrifice,” — which in actuality isn’t a sacrifice at all — to nurture a relationship with those who will never leave you.
In addition to being a phenomenally well-crafted film, “It’s A Wonderful Life’s” overarching message of family being superior to high monetary standards is one our society readily accepts. Most of us watching from the comfort of our own homes during the Christmas season look admiringly toward the Baileys, reveling in the bright future they are sure to have.
But at the end of the night, once credits have rolled and the best Jimmy Stewart quotes have been repeated, what is too often overlooked is that we can have what the Bailey’s have. It’s not that hard. All it requires is a little trust, a leap of faith. And you will not be disappointed.