"One loyal friend is worth ten thousand relatives."
When I was little…in the days before cable T.V. and it’s abundance of channel choices, KSL Channel 5 played movie every afternoon at 2:00pm. Of course I was in school all day every day so didn’t usually watch the KSL 2pm movie…unless I was sick. KSL’s target audience seemed to be people that were home all afternoon – older, retired people, so most of the movies were from old Hollywood and very often in black and white. This was kind of lucky for me because we didn’t have a color T.V., so I wasn’t missing out on anything like I did with some movies - the yearly broadcast of The Wizard of Oz for example. I didn’t know until I was 18 years old that when Dorothy steps out of her door in Munchkinland – the whole movie turns into COLOR! Yeah, T.V. was not a big focus in our home. Anyway, every once in awhile when I got to stay home sick from school (and I really had to be just about ready to lose a lung or something to get to stay home) I would get to watch Bernie Calderwood host the KSL two o’clock movie. Sometimes, I have to admit; the movies were really boring and kind of hard to follow. But sometimes there would be one like Roman Holiday with Audrey Hepburn, or Little Women with the other Hepburn that were awesome. Because I was by myself when I was watching these movies, it was kind of like I was discovering something special that no one else knew about. One of my clearest 2pm movie memories started out with a shot of two stars – you know in the sky – talking to one another. They would sort of blink back and forth as the voices spoke. Then another littler star shot over and joined them and they started talking some more. I must have had a fever or something that day because I remember kind of waking up during this part and thinking something like “wow, those stars are talking to each other,” and that image drew me into the movie. Now speaking of cable T.V., anyone who has watched his or her fair share of TNT in December may already recognize that I’m talking about the beginning of It’s a Wonderful Life with Jimmy Stewart. This movie has been about played to death every Christmas season for the past 20 years or so. But when I first saw it, about 1974 or 75 it wasn’t something that played all the time (like The Wizard of Oz or The Sound of Music”or The Ten Commandments every Easter”). This was a magical movie for my 8 or 9-year-old self that I remember feeling really emotional about. Part of that was, of course, because Jimmy Stewart rocks and does such a great job playing the character of George Bailey. And part of it too was probably because I liked the idea that the whole thing was told as kind of a flashback of George’s life as told to Clarence – his brand new guardian angel (I liked the idea of guardian angels). I didn’t have the life experience at that time to understand the emotion and desperation that led George to be praying for help on the bridge in the snow, but the story and characters are laid out so clearly that I didn’t have any trouble even as a little kid, understanding the problem or the satisfying resolution. George felt like a failure. But Clarence helped him realize that no one in his life would have been better off without him – he really did have a wonderful life…and of course Clarence deserved to get his wings.
Ever since that magical afternoon movie experience, I’ve had a soft spot for It’s A Wonderful Life even with the dreadful overplay it’s received over the years. I’ve come to realize too, especially in the last couple of years, that I often use it as a touchstone or reference point for life. And it’s not a bad question to ask once in awhile too I think. How much would the world change if I had never been born? What differences have I made and who have I influenced? I have had some pretty profound changes in my life in the past couple of years that have made me question a lot of things not to mention recognize in a very clear way the desperation George Bailey felt on the bridge. I suppose too, that I am hitting that time in my life when a lot of things are bound to change. Something about having one of your children hit the age of 20 invites a certain amount of reflection. I have found that as the seasons of life come and go responsibilities and influence change it is easy to become really- isolated. Of course it’s my own fault if I do, it’s part of the choices that I make. But circumstances compound sometimes to add to that isolation and feeling of …well, loneliness. I can’t really say that I am where I want to be in any aspect of my life right now, which is, to say the least, unsettling. But I’ve had a couple of George Bailey moments over the past few months that have made me recognize the truth of what Clarence, the angel wrote to George in his copy of Tom Sawyer, “…no man is a failure who has friends.” I have known some lovely, lovely people over the years. People that I have come to respect through the work we have done and the lives we have tried to influence. I have seen them all in action and recognize the quality of people that I have been lucky enough to learn from and be around. But I am also lucky enough, and quite frankly surprised to have found out that these remarkable people are my friends, my good It’s- A –Wonderful- Life – George Bailey kind of friends. I’m not surprised that they would do kind and unselfish things. But I am surprised at the concern and passion with which they will do these things for me. They count me among their number because they have seen value in what I have done and in the life I have led. That has really been a valuable and gratifying realization. I think these lovely, lovely people are amazing, and the fact that they seem to feel the same way about me makes me feel good….about me. So, I’m not sure if my guardian angel has earned his or her wings just yet, but having friends like these makes me hopeful that someday…that bell will ring.