One of my favorite movies is It’s a Wonderful Life. Even though I have it on DVD somewhere in a box, if I see it on the channel listings each year at Christmas time, I’ll usually stop and watch at least for a little while. Although there are many great scenes in the movie, two stick out as my favorites. The first is when George (Jimmy Stewart) walks Mary (Donna Reed) home after they’d fallen into the swimming pool beneath the gymnasium floor at the high school dance. They are just on the verge of falling for each other as he walks her home and accidentally steps on the robe she’s wearing. She flees naked into the bushes for cover and George responds something to the effect that, well now, this is a very interesting situation! And then later when he wanders by her house even though he’s not quite sure why. Mary’s overbearing mother yells downstairs wondering what George Baily wants and Mary yells up that he is “making violent love to me Mother!” just to shut her up. Well, I guess that is two scenes but they’re good.
But my other favorite scene from that movie and the one that I think of the most day-to-day, is the one when George storms into his house in despair as his building and loan is falling to pieces because of evil Mr. Potter and his fool Uncle Billy misplacing their money. George comes home distraught, sits down in his easy chair as his wife and children are putting the finishing touches on the Christmas tree. First he clutches his youngest tight and tries to relish what he knows is dear to him, but then the chaos around him is more than he can stand and he starts yelling at the family about the everything. “Another hectic day?” his wife Mary asks with a smile. “Oh yeah, another big red-letter day for the Bailys” he responds in disgust. His oldest son tells his dad that he should see the neighbors new car, to which he barks back, “What’s the matter with our car, isn’t it good enough for ya?” His youngest tugs on his pants leg to get his attention saying “Scuse me.” “Excuse you for what?” dad yells. “I burped,” the kid replies innocently. Dad just turns in disgust, a look of exasperation on his face. When another kid tells him the famous line of teacher says every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings, dad loses it and calls up the teacher on the phone and rips into her. When questioned by his wife on why he has to upset their happy family, he yells, “You call this a happy family? Why do we have to have all these kids?” Priceless.
We know that the movie has a happy ending, but what I love about that scene is that it shows dad, good old George Baily, Jimmy Stewart, Mr. Nice Guy, completely overwhelmed by his circumstances and taking it out on his family. Which is a bad thing to do, but kind of like me sometimes, if I’m being honest. I’m sure most people have moments like that, when they lose their cool and don’t handle situations the way they’d like if they could do it over. For me, I’m afraid that it is sometimes easier to let my true feelings come out unchecked around my loved ones than when at work or around others that I (ironically) don’t hold as dear.
A few moments this week, it just seemed like the walls were closing in. The boys had what seemed like at least fifty baseball games or practices. If not baseball, its cub scouts, or school carnivals or god-knows what else. The dog is great, except for first thing in the morning and after the kids are in bed, when he seems to requires constant attention. These, of course, are the only two times that I am free from work. Many nights, I can’t walk across the room without him nipping at my heels, biting my pants leg or worse. All I want is to be able to sit in my house on my couch and watch an hour of TV before going to bed without being mauled. Forget about trying to go for a jog, I can’t even get the grass mowed, and now the town insists that we have (and is charging me for) a massive water leak in the 50 foot stretch from the road to my house despite the fact that the ground is as dry as a bone.
I could have taken the high road and calmly plodded through my day, slowly checking things off my list and remembering the big picture. Unfortunately, I didn’t. The other morning, as the dog accosted me once again as I tried in vain to take 15 seconds and drink a glass of orange juice, I literally threw the dog out the front door, called him a not nice name and told him to never come back. I fumed that I couldn’t find my jogging hat and that I didn’t have time to go. I yelled at my wife when I realized that I’d overlooked an email from the baseball coach that a game time had changed and now I had a schedule conflict. I was busting at the seams. Not over huge problems (certainly much smaller ones than George Bailey’s issues at the building and loan), but for an accumulation of small ones that just didn’t seem to be subsiding. Thankfully I wasn’t ready to jump of a bridge like George was considering, but it was not pretty.
Some days my life might be better represented by the movie, Anger Management, with Jack Nicholson and Adam Sandler than It’s a Wonderful Life. Thankfully, most days aren’t quite that bad, and I have a very patient wife and a graceful God who both try to remind me that I shouldn’t get stuck in my problems, that there is a much more important bigger story against which my issues pale in comparison, and that I have much to be thankful for. Which sounds an awful lot like the ending to It’s a Wonderful Life, when George is reminded of all that he has and how much he has been blessed. I’m happy to report that I’ve since apologized to my wife, kissed and made up with the dog (seems like that order should be different) and remembered how fun it is to have the opportunity to coach my boys in sports. Unfortunately this month’s water bill came as well and I seem to be paying for the entire state of Virginia’s showers.
I don’t know why it’s so easy to get overwhelmed or why it’s such a slippery slope to forgetting what joy and prizes we hold. But I’m grateful that I can always fall back on the truths and the goodness that can’t fade away, and that doesn’t need to wait for a bell to ring.