Every Christmas, when I decorate the crystal-laden tree in our bedroom, I hold up, one at a time, each of the three ornaments that are tinkling bells, ring them and say, “Teacher says every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings.”
Usually, Tink is sitting there to hear this recitation, which I do in the voice of an untrained child actor and he either shakes his head or comically rolls his eyes. This is one of the last lines in the rousing final scene of the holiday favorite, “It’s A Wonderful Life.”
Always I have loved this movie for that last scene. Every time when George Bailey is rescued by the love of his neighbors and friends, I cry. I have seen this movie — or at least this one scene — at least two dozen times. And still, I cry.
Several years ago, when I experienced a small town in Arkansas demonstrate a similar generosity and big-heartedness, it became the inspiration for a book I wrote called “The Town That Came A-Courtin.’” It was a best seller and later a well-received television movie. Readers and viewers, like I, were captivated by the town of Blytheville and a wealth of people who loved unconditionally, people who had nothing to gain by helping another but their hearts led them to it.
On the night that the actors — including the iconic Valerie Harper — and crew filmed the climatic scene of the movie, where the town’s people have finally succeeded through meddling and the prayer chain to bring the couple together, I stood behind one of the cameras, watching. Actress Lauren Holly, who played the character based on me, and Cameron Bancroft kissed while the crowds cheered, laughed and high-fived each other. Valerie grasped at her heart, sighed and smiled tenderly.
And I cried.
Not for one second because I had written a book that became a movie — that was surely God’s good grace. The tears came because watching that moment of kindness and love was heartwarming. Overwhelming so. And because I knew it was true — that people like that do exist. I had seen it, and I had experienced it.
The other day I needed inspiration for a Christmas column. I needed to go to a place of nostalgia so I put the movie on and planned to let it play in the background but I got caught up in it and watched it with new, differently appreciating eyes.
For the first time, as a writer, I was impressed with the story that director (and co-writer of the movie) Frank Capra had weaved together. It is simultaneously infused with both conflict and tremendous hope. Four lessons prevail: Prayer works (the movie begins with all the prayers pouring into heaven for a man named George Bailey); the seeds of kindness produce greats harvests; good wins eventually; and every life is important. Each person’s life is part of a plan so big that our minds are unable to understand the complexity. Yet, Capra was able to simplify that.
No wonder it is considered one of the 100 Best American Films ever made.
For two days prior to watching “It’s A Wonderful Life,” I had been spellbound by every second of the funeral and memorial for former President George H.W. Bush. I even recorded the funeral and re-watched it after viewing it live. George Bush was a modern day George Bailey. His 95 years were a tribute to how the kindness and spirit of servitude of one man can affect millions of lives.
Both Georges were so similar in how they earnestly helped others and how people responded to their deliberate acts of greatness.
Needless to say, I did a bit of crying over the two days of Bush tributes.
Then, I watched the movie and cried again at the end.
It feels good to see the wonderfulness of people.
Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of several books, including “Mark My Words: A Memoir of Mama.” Sign up for her newsletter at www.rondarich.com. Her column appears Tuesdays and on www.gainesvilletimes.com.