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In Praise of Plan BMoving from "what is" to "what can be"
By Tim Kimmel
ZondervanCopyright © 2010 Tim Kimmel
All right reserved.
Chapter OneLOST IN BEDFORD FALLS
There's a little town I want you to visit. You've been there several times already—at least most of you have. We go there every Christmas, as most others do, but it's a good place to visit any time, any season. Some of you haven't had the chance to go there yet, but you need to take the next opportunity you get. Just hit the turn signal, veer down the off-ramp, and follow the signs to Bedford Falls. It's an interesting mix of nobodies and everybodies smack-dab in the heartland of us all. Trust me, if you haven't seen Frank Capra's movie It's a Wonderful Life, you must make the trip. And the sooner, the better.
We own three copies of the movie. Two are the original black-and-white production. The third is a colorized version. All tell the same story of a small-town boy who dreams of traveling the main streets of the world, building bridges that span the widest rivers and skyscrapers that rub shoulders with the clouds. There's only one problem: this boy grows up to be a man of character, courage, and commitment.
Meet George Bailey. When his father died, the struggling family business—Bailey Building and Loan—finds itself at the mercy of the heartless Mr. Potter. He's the evil and greedy antagonist who wants to own the town and everyone in it. The only one who can stand up to Mr. Potter is the young George Bailey. Without George, Bedford Falls would slide into moral ruin and financial slavery.
So young George assumes the helm of his father's dream long enough to become trapped by a series of circumstances too hard to avoid. He marries Mary, the girl who's had a crush on him since her early rendezvous at Gower's Pharmacy. They have four kids and do their best to raise them in the drafty old mansion. Meanwhile, everyone's ship comes in around George. His boyhood friend Sam Wainwright becomes a millionaire, and his brother, Harry, gets the Congressional Medal of Honor. Everyone's life gets defined by money and medals while George Bailey languishes in obscurity, making risky loans to his blue-collar friends.
Then Uncle Billy does the unthinkable. Maybe it was his absentmindedness coupled with his fond affection for Jack Daniel's. Or maybe it was just his euphoria over nephew Harry's major accomplishment. Whichever, he misplaces the bank deposit (right into Mr. Potter's lap) and puts George and the Bailey Building and Loan in the crosshairs of scandal.
It's at this point that the whole movie pivots. George Bailey goes to Mr. Potter and grovels for help but, finding none, decides to end his life so that his life insurance policy can be cashed in to make up the deficit.
Before he can take his own life, however, his plan is foiled by a bumbling angel named Clarence. In the process of explaining his dilemma to Clarence, George makes the powerful statement, "It would have been better had I never been born." So Clarence uses the opportunity to give him a glimpse of what life in Bedford Falls would be like had George Bailey never existed.
The story is powerful and poignant. Clarence the angel shows George that if he had never been born, Bedford Falls would be a much different place. By escorting George into an alternate reality, the angel shows him the sorry state his town would be in if he had never lived.
Without George to rescue him, his little brother who fell through the ice would have drowned instead of growing up to become a war hero who saved his buddies' lives. Without George to stop him, Mr. Gower the pharmacist would have accidentally poisoned an innocent child, lost his license, gone to prison, and ultimately become the town drunk. Without George to love her, Mary would have become a lonely and repressed spinster. Without George to stand up to him, Mr. Potter would have embedded his greedy claws into the heart of the town, strangling it economically and turning it into a sad reflection of himself.
George Bailey thought his thwarted life was an abject failure. But the truth is, his life—and especially his reluctant choice to stick it out in the conventional world of Bedford Falls instead of following his lofty dream—gave the town hope and happiness and kept it from sinking into grim despair.
It's a Wonderful Life shows us that every life, no matter how seemingly insignificant, no matter how thwarted in its hopes and dreams, makes a huge difference. Each of us is a potential George Bailey. Our daily decisions and actions have far-reaching effects we will never see. Squirrels hiding acorns in the ground for the winter have no idea that those they forget to dig up will be mighty oak trees decades after they're gone. The little things we do every day either allow or prevent the web-weaving schemes of the Mr. Potters of the world.
Suicide wasn't the answer for George Bailey. Until Clarence opened heaven's window, George didn't realize what an impact his life had—a life he thought was truncated and meager.
In the last scene of the movie, George is surrounded by his wife, his children, his friends, his family, and the customers of his business. All have rallied to save him from despair and financial ruin. At that point he realizes that his Plan B life is worth living—indeed, it's the best life he could possibly have.
Excerpted from In Praise of Plan B by Tim Kimmel Copyright © 2010 by Tim Kimmel. Excerpted by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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