Couldn’t we all use a Clarence?

“Teacher says every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings,” says Zuzu Bailey in the closing scene of Frank Capra’s 1946 film, “It’s a Wonderful Life”.

“That’s right. Attaboy Clarence,” responds George Bailey, as he realizes the angel sent to him completed his mission and received his wings.

Many of you will be familiar with the plot of the classic film.

George Bailey, growing up in Bedford Falls, dreams of going to college and traveling the world. After the unexpected death of his father, he ends up staying in Bedford Falls to take over his family’s building and loan business. He watches his brother and friends move on and away from Bedford Falls, seeing the world and seeming to live the dreams that George Bailey once had. He makes his life in the small town at his family’s business, marries his high-school sweetheart, and starts a family.

On Christmas Eve, after his uncle misplaces funds for the business and his competitor, Mr. Potter, promises a warrant for his arrest, George Bailey contemplates taking his own life and wishes he had never been born.

As an answer to the prayers of George’s friends and family, an angel, Clarence, is sent to save George to earn his wings. Clarence grants George’s wish and shows him the world of Bedford Falls if he had never been born and the ripple effect it would have had on all those his life had touched in ways big and small.

George, seeing the world was better with him in it, on a snowy bridge on Christmas Eve, begs Clarence to allow him to live again.

“It’s a Wonderful Life” is a film I watch every year, and, each year, it takes on a slightly varied meaning. Different parts resonate. This year, especially, I can imagine many of us have felt like George Bailey standing on that bridge, waiting for an answer to the questions we have, wondering what way there is forward.

Couldn’t we all use a Clarence?

In moments of uncertainty, when we question the paths we have knowingly or unknowingly taken, couldn’t we all use a Clarence to show us the ripple effects our lives have had? In moments when our vision is clouded by difficult circumstances and uncontrollable events, couldn’t we all use a Clarence to show us the light?

“It’s a Wonderful Life” reminds us what makes life wonderful, despite the difficulties we face and the questions we grapple with. Whether we followed our dreams we once had or followed an unexpected path altogether, whether we traveled the world or stayed in our small town, did great, wonderful things or did small, wonderful things, our lives are built by the lives we touch.

“One man’s life touches so many others, when he’s not there it leaves an awfully big hole,” says Clarence to George, as he sees the myriad of ways his life has made an impact on those around him.

Unlike George Bailey, we won’t be getting a visit from Clarence to show us the way or answer the questions that we have, but maybe Clarence will visit us in other ways. The kindness given by a friend or a stranger. A note of appreciation. Moments that make us pause. The memories of holidays spent with those we love, even if we can’t experience them this year.

“It’s a Wonderful Life” reminds us to always keep our eyes open, to not lose sight of what makes it a wonderful life.

To not underestimate the immeasurable influence a life has on those around it.

To remember: “no man is a failure who has friends.”

Anne Gentry graduated from Brown University with a degree in comparative literature and has studied in Italy and South Australia. She is currently executive director of the Alpena Downtown Development Authority.


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