*7 Enduring Lessons From “It’s a Wonderful Life”

All I ever have to do to make the Crankee Yankee’s eyes roll is to mention the words “It’s a Wonderful Life.” I couldn’t tell you how many times I have watched and cried over this movie; each and every Christmas season I see it at least five times.

What appeals to me (beyond the excellent actors, of course) is the fact that each and every life matters. Sometimes we wonder why we are here and what our purpose is; we wonder how different the world might be if we were not in it.

When my mother was a teenager, she and a few girlfriends were having a picnic near a ball field. The game was going full force, and the girls were enjoying their time together. As Mom told it to me, she dropped her napkin and bent down to pick it up. At that moment, a baseball from the nearby game whizzed right over her head, missing her temple by an inch or two.

Had that baseball smashed into my mother’s temple, it would have killed her. It would have ended her life, and I never would have been born and would never have known my amazing mother and father.

So one life can make a huge difference in the world. Read on; the following are the seven enduring lessons from “It’s a Wonderful Life:”

1. Your life has purpose
“Each man’s life touches so many other lives, and when he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?” says the angel Clarence to George Bailey. One of the obvious points of the film is that, without George around, so many things would have been different. We learn that Bedford Falls, for example, would have been Pottersville. Of course, Zuzu and the other children would never have been born.

But the impact would have stretched far beyond this small town. “George saved his brother’s life that day,” says the angel Joseph, recalling when George’s brother Harry fell through the ice of a frozen pond. Years later, Harry would become a war hero, saving the lives of others. The point is, we have no idea how significantly our lives affect others.

 

But that’s only part of the reason to value your life. Aside from serving others, our lives should be viewed as a gift. As the angel Franklin notes, “At exactly 10:45 p.m. tonight, Earth time, that man will be seriously thinking of throwing away God’s greatest gift.”

2. Keeping up with the Joneses is for saps
This message is subtly sprinkled throughout the film. But the final example, writes Bob Welch in his book 52 Little Lessons from It’s a Wonderful Life, comes when George’s son announces that the neighbors have a new car. “Well, what’s the matter with our car?” George snaps. “Isn’t it good enough for you?”

George’s ambition to be more than he is creates a lot of his problems, and is the cause of much restlessness and unhappiness. This is not to say that we shouldn’t strive to better ourselves, but that maturity requires finding a balance. Learning to fully appreciate the blessings we have is a daily struggle for most of us, but most of today’s pop culture only reinforces consumerism and naked ambition.

The question is, how are we defining our worth these days? It’s a Wonderful Life leaves us with a clear message about that. “Dear George, remember no man is a failure who has friends. Thanks for the wings. Love, Clarence.”

3. Bad guys don’t always get punished
“In many movies, the final scene shows the bad guy being led away in handcuffs,” writes Wes McAdams, a pastor from Texas. “It makes us feel good, knowing that justice has been served. Not so in It’s A Wonderful Life.” In fact, nothing bad happens to the villain.

“I love how George Bailey runs past Potter’s window and yells, ‘Merry Christmas, Mr. Potter!’ and that’s the last scene in which we see him,” adds McAdams.

In an era when things tended to be resolved before the “The End” sign appeared on the screen, “It’s a Wonderful Life deserves credit for not solving every problem with the tinkling of a bell,” adds Mark Spearman.

Welch also notes that in the 1940s, “the Motion Picture Production Code definitely stipulated that criminals must be punished for their crimes,” and the case has been made that Mr. Potter might have been guilty of larceny. During a Q&A in 1968, Welch recalls, Capra was asked about why Potter wasn’t punished. “[O]ur main interest was what happened to George Bailey. This Lionel Barrymore (the actor who played Potter) character was too crusty, too old, too happy with what he was doing to change. So we just left him as he was.”

It would have been easy to turn Potter into a sort of redeemed Ebenezer Scrooge who had seen the error of his ways. But in addition to avoiding a predictably sappy trope, Capra also reminded us that sometimes bad people get away with doing bad things.

4. Don’t hire someone just because they are family
This is more of a practical maxim, but with all the touch-feely lessons in the film, it’s important to cull some not-so-obvious and not-so-pleasant realities as well. “Uncle Billy, the brother of George’s father, nearly ruined the business,” recalls Julie Rains. “He drank on the job and didn’t seem to be a productive employee even in the best of times. George could have hired a better employee or given him lesser responsibilities, somehow finding a way to show generosity in a way that didn’t compromise the business.”

5. Appreciate how blessed you already are
During his tirade, George tells Mary, “Everything’s wrong!” But after his experience with Clarence, his whole perspective changes. This, explains Welch, is “because the stuff that does matter — family, friends, and faith — has now risen to such pre-eminence in his life that the rest doesn’t really matter.” Thus, he says things like, “Oh, look at this wonderful old drafty house, Mary! Mary!”

6. How to deliver a good toast
Okay, this one isn’t so deep, but it is an important skill. In one scene, George and Mary deliver this toast to a new homeowner: “Bread, that this house may never know hunger. Salt, that life may always have flavor. And wine, that joy and prosperity may reign forever.” So often we drone on during these moments. But simpler really is better (and often more eloquent). “It reflects a sentiment woven throughout the story, that things of true worth are not measured in dollars, but in the currency of friendship and family, and the good karma one puts out into the world,” writes Mark Spearman.

7. Marry the right person
George’s mother tells him that Mary is the “kind who will help you find your answers.” She was right under his nose all along, of course. But once they do get married, she sticks with him through thick and thin.

All this and more is why I never miss watching “It’s a Wonderful Life.” It makes me remember how lucky I am, and how much I have in my life. It makes me remember that I too have a wonderful life.

*From http://theweek.com/articles/454845/7-enduring-lessons-from-wonderful-life, Mark K. Lewis.

By the Sea

Last night the Crankee Yankee and I took a drive by the ocean. We had been out to dinner at one of our favorite places for seafood, and, since it was such a beautiful and warm evening, we took a drive by the ocean.

It was one of those days that I wish I was an artist and could paint what I saw. The sky met the ocean in gorgeous pastels: soft periwinkle blue, pale aqua, and rose gold. There was a silvery mist along the beach that added to the muted marriage of all those colors.

We stopped at of those one-hour parking spots by the side of the road. The Crankee Yankee knows that any chance I get to walk around on the rocks by the ocean, I will. These days I am more careful about where I walk, and avoid the slippery seaweed-covered rocks. But it never takes away the young wonder I always feel when I am near the ocean.

I have collected sea glass for years now, but these days, sadly, there isn’t much of it around. Since plastic has pretty much replaced glass, all those gemmy bits of glass have become thin on the ground.

However, it was heavenly to walk around on the rocks and enjoy the salty air in my face. The Atlantic ocean is cold and forbidding, but it will still occasionally toss a treasure or two up on the beach. Most of the shells that land there are broken, but now and then you may find a whole slipper shell, whelk or even a sand dollar.

Before I walked back to the car, I watched a young father and his little girl as they walked on the beach, heads down to see what the ocean might have left there. The little ran ahead of her father, bent down and picked something up. She ran back to her dad, yelling, “Daddy! Look! It’s a shell, a whole angel wing!

I thought, “good for you, kiddo—keep finding treasure where you can.”

 

 

Family-Speak

Perhaps every family has their own “family speak;” I know that we did. For example, when I was in a high chair eating a pancake, my mother told me that I banged on the tray hollering for “sirk! SIRK!!”

“What do you want?” she asked me. “What is ‘sirk’?”

Then she realized that I meant ‘syrup.’ So ‘sirk’ became our family word for syrup. As I got older, whenever I saw Mom or Dad doing something and then finishing it, I asked was the project ‘flopicized’ yet. In my lingo, that meant ‘finished.’

We also called “tonic” (New Englandese for ‘soda’ or ‘soft drink’) “tonit.” When the day was cloudy and raw, my dad called it a “lowrey” day.

When I married the Crankee Yankee, his delightful mother, Hazel, who grew up in a German-speaking home, introduced me to some of her family’s favorite words, such as:

  • “Schtumph” – to push something or someone over. Example: “Hazel, Dougie just schtumphed the baby [Doug’s younger brother, David] over!”
  • “Cravis haben” or “haben rovis” was an all-purpose noun for anything; pots, pans, clothes, shoes, dishes, etc. Example: “Will you please put the cravis haben in the cupboard?”
  • “Hux around” meant ‘hang around.’ Example: “I’ll just hux around the house today.”

Not only do I love hearing about different words that families use; I love words—period. There are some words that just sing to me; some of my favorites, off the top of my head are:

  • “zaftig” – soft, round, pleasing
  • “hyrax” – shrew mouse
  • “feckless” – weak or ineffective
  • “peckish” – hungry
  • “gravitas” – a very serious manner
  • “entymologist” – one who studies insects

Funny story about entymology vs. etymology; Mom (who also loved and appreciated words) once told me that she often forgot which was which. I told her  to remember the “ents” (ants) so that she would remember that entymology is the study of insects. That still makes me laugh.

And then there are the words you can play in a good game of Scrabble. Oh, the exquisite joy of spelling out a word like “quinoa” with the “q” on a triple letter square! Or, better yet, getting a “bingo” (using all seven letters on your rack) AND beginning or ending with one letter on the “triple word” square! A bingo means you get an extra 50 points, so that can be a real game-changer.

My love of words has brought me singular joy all my life. I am lucky to have come from a reading family, even though Mom and I were definitely reading for pleasure. Dad read for information. Funnily enough, so does the Cranky Yankee.

So whether or not you call it “sirk” or “syrup,” you know that it’s that delicious maple-y stuff you pour on your pancakes. After all, what’s in a name?

Today

Today is the day that we bury my dad next to my mother. They rest on their side of the pink granite family gravestone; my grandparents (Dad’s parents) rest on the other side. I remember each burial; first my grandmother, then my grandfather, my mother next, and now my dad.

It is a formality we keep, even though we know that their living souls are in Heaven. Since I was a child I believed this, and I do now. Imagine the sheer beauty of one human soul with all its complexities, thoughts, loves, talents, abilities! Whether we live one day or a hundred years, why should such a magnificent thing as a human soul turn to nothing?

Our bodies are the temporary homes of our eternal souls. It may be that we have lived many lives in different bodies over time. It may be that this life is our first time on Earth. Either way, we are here to learn and progress and use the gifts we have been given.

Have you ever met someone and had an instant connection with them? It could be that you have known each other in different lives. Same with meeting someone and feeling that, for no special reason, you don’t like them.

Mom and Dad and I often talked about soul recognition, life after death, and living many lives on earth. They always said that they had been together in many lives; learning in each life what they didn’t know in past lives. We used to laugh together and say that our present lives were “school,” but Heaven was home.

These rituals of life and death that we observe are our ways of honoring those who have gone on before us. While we will miss their physical presence, the abiding love they had for us on earth never leaves us.

As sad as I feel today in missing my dad as well as my mom, I can still hear their voices in my mind. I know that where they are now they can see all the delicate strands of purpose that helped them to find each other again in this life.

When it is my time to leave this earth, I hope that I will know all things I have questioned all my life. I believe with all my heart that I will see all my relatives and friends, and that my arms will be wide open to hug my parents once again.

The truth beyond this temporary pain of today is that love lives on forever.

 

Tim Conway, Comedy Genius

I am an easy laugher; lots of things tickle my funnybone. Mom was the same way; I can still see her sitting in her favorite chair; right leg flung over left leg, one hand on her heart, head thrown back, howling with laughter.

Now Dad was another story. He would smile or chuckle at some things, but the one person who just cracked him up was Tim Conway. We used to love watching the Carol Burnett Show, and especially loved it when the cast just lost it when Tim went off script. If you have never seen the famous dentist sketch with Tim Conway and Harvey Korman, do yourself a favor and Google it up. (I strongly suggest that you pee first.)

The following are some of Tim Conway’s quotes; enjoy.

  • I spend a lot of time thinking of the Hereafter – each time I enter a room I wonder what I’m here after.
  • I resent my barber when he charges the full cost after he cuts my hair, but he says he’s charging me for finding it.
  • I’ve never really taken anything very seriously. I enjoy life because I enjoy making other people enjoy it.
  • I like to work a lot with wood. I make furniture that falls apart. I also sew.
  • As a kid I was short and only weighed 95 pounds. And though I was active in a lot of Sports and got along with most of the guys, I think I used comedy as a defense mechanism. You know making someone laugh is a much better way to solve a problem than by using your fists.
  • At first I wanted to be a jockey. I rode horses in Cleveland but I kept falling off and I was afraid of horses. So there wasn’t much of a future in it.
  • The reason ‘The Carol Burnett Show’ did so well in the ratings is because people were looking for that comfort zone when the whole family sat around and watched television and enjoyed it.
  • I don’t watch a lot of TV anymore. A lot of it isn’t the kind of thing you can feel comfortable with watching with your kids. And I still feel that way even though, now, my kids are in their 30s.
  • Fortunately my wife is understanding. When I come home from the races she never asks any questions, if I tell her I just ate a $380 hot dog.
  • If only my folks had beaten me, I could have gotten some material about my miserable childhood. But as it is, I’ve had a great life.
  • My career is pretty much over. I’m out in the Valley eating soft-boiled eggs.
  • It’s hard to be sad when you’re laughing, so I enjoy making people happy.

Missing You

I am missing you more than I can say

And wish that we still had another day—-

But such decisions are not yours or mine

It’s all in the hands of the beloved Divine.

We come to Earth on glory-filled wings

And play out our lives; full of love and all good things

But as we know, things all come to an end

The exact day and time is not for us to know, my friend.

So while we are here in joy and love

Even without you here (but up above),

Let’s be glad for the time we had

All the fun, the good, even the bad—

While we are here let’s be happy and forget our fears—

A life well spent is up to us, and Heaven knows we will shed tears

When one we love leaves us breathless and sad—

Remember that we had days and months and years to be glad.

Hearts are unbreakable and love doesn’t die—

Sorrow and love are part of life for you and I.

But hope is always there to guide us through

And I know I will see you again; I love you.