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Home / Articles / Columnists / Life 101 /  It is Indeed a Wonderful Life
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Friday, November 4,2016

It is Indeed a Wonderful Life

By Cary Bayer  

As December rolls in, I will once again for the umpteenth time watch one of my five desert island films, It’s a Wonderful Life, starring Jimmy Stewart. When I was in my 20s, one of my secret pleasures was introducing different people to the 1946 Frank Capra classic. It was truly a kind of spiritual experience for these Capra virgins because the film contains so many provocative spiritual insights that come at you one after another for two hours. It brought them laughs, many tears, much emotional purification, and deep spiritual insights.


For those who might be foggy on the plot, it opens in Heaven - not quite a usual scene for motion pictures- where a senior angel is talking to a junior wingless counterpart about a young boy named George Bailey. All of what we see as the boy grows up is a kind of cinematic dossier for Clarence, the angel, preparing him for his big moment and chance for wings when, years later, George reaches a deep existential crisis.

George is an all-around good kid - he would grow up to be Jimmy Stewart; enough said, a devoted son a devoted brother - he loses the hearing in one ear to save his brother from drowning in an ice pond that cracked. He has a great yen for traveling the world, but sacrifices his dreams to work for his father’s building and loan, and help put his brother through college. When it’s finally his time to pack his bags for faraway places, his dad dies, and he sacrifices once again to keep the credit union running. He passes on a chance to get in on the ground floor of his rich buddy’s burgeoning business because his heart isn’t in it.


George only does what his heart is into or what duty demands. In other words, he follows his Dharma, his spiritual duty dutifully. He marries a childhood sweetheart (the eversweet Donna Reed) and moves in to a run-down deserted derelict building. In time, children come, life moves on, the Depression hits, there’s a run on the bank, and he saves the homes of his customers by resisting the seductive offers of the town millionaire scrooge, who’s trying to get his grubby clammy hands on their homes to turn them into a shanty town. A crisis comes when his absent-minded uncle and partner loses an enormous deposit at the bank, an act which George takes responsibility for and which figures to send him to jail for malfeasance. Broke and hopeless, he ponders a jump off the bridge, figuring that his life insurance policy makes him more valuable dead than alive.


We all know people who have sunk into a depression that is so deep they can’t think straight; sometimes, sadly, suicide ensues. George takes the plunge, and that’s when Clarence, a bumbling angel, enters stage right. George, of course, doesn’t believe that the savior who pulls him out of the water is his guardian angel. Until the bumbler hits on a big idea: to show George, who thinks his life has been meaningless, just how important his life truly has been. What follows is a Twilight Zone episode in which George wanders through his familiar town, but nobody knows him because Clarence is granting his wish, and showing him what the world would have been like had he never been born.


His former pharmacist boss is a destitute rummy because George wasn’t there to intercept the poison the druggist had accidentally put into a prescription, when he found out that his son had died in the war. His mother is an angry childless widow, because her only son died because he didn’t have an older brother to save him from drowning. His uncle is in an insane asylum. His idyllic town has turned into the shanty Pottersville, because he wasn’t there to keep the building and loan alive to help people get affordable housing. The nightmare goes on and on until George finally begs for release from Clarence’s spell.

So he returns home, still broke, with the law waiting for him, but that’s exactly when boxes of Kleenex got used by the more than dozen friends I showed this film to. This is the final emotionally charged scene when George discovers just how important he truly is in his town. When his wife had found out that he needed money, she let everyone know - everyone whose life George had so deeply touched - and they raise the money that his uncle lost - and then some - and the police put away their handcuffs and throw their own money into the kitty and enjoy the celebration of George’s wonderful life.

This film should be given to everyone who’s depressed; it might save them the need for anti-depressants, it might save them wallowing in despair; it might even save their lives.


Years ago, I studied with the great guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who said, in his commentary on the great yoga classic, the Bhagavad Gita,that “unfathomable is the field of Karma (action)”. This film shows ever so poignantly, ever so deeply, the effect that a single life has on the lives of so many others. If you know someone who’s feeling depressed, why not pick up this spiritual classic from Netflix, and show them that they, too, are living a wonderful life?



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