“No man is a failure who has friends.” Perhaps after “Every time a bell rings, an Angel gets it’s wings’, it is one of the most iconic and memorable lines from the classic movie It’s a Wonderful Life. Oddly enough the line is never spoken, it’s only written in a copy of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer that the Angel Clarence gives to George Bailey at the end of the movie. It is often misquoted as “no man is poor who has friends,” but regardless of if it is said or written or how it is worded, it is still a statement with a lot of truth behind it.
When George is told this nugget of truth, he has just come back from his trip to an alternate universe where he never existed and sees just how worse off the world would be without him. Because of his compassion, his generosity, and the sacrifices he has made, he has enriched the lives of those around him, both directly and indirectly. The whole town of Bedford Falls shows up to show their love and support for their old friend.
However before he sees this vision, he isn’t feeling like much of a success. He has set aside his own personal dreams and ambitions to travel the world and go to college to run the family business: the Bailey Building and Loan. He has thwarted Old Man Potter at every turn in shutting down the Building and Loan, until one little accident. For reasons unknown, he decided to keep his borderline senile Uncle Billy on staff, and even allowed him to handle the banking deposits.
It was in this instance that Uncle Billy when rubbing it in Old Man Potter’s face about yet another one of the Bailey boys successes, in this case George’s brother Harry winning a Congressional Medal for bravery in battle during World War II, that Billy accidentally left an envelope containing the days deposits of $8,000 in the paper and gave it to Potter. The money missing, George goes into a panic and grovels before Potter for help, while the mean old miser withholds the money from him.
Now is his chance to destroy George once and for all. When George tells him he has an insurance policy that only costs $150 all Potter can tell him is that he is worth more dead than alive and swears out a warrant for his arrest. All of George’s hard work is crumbling down and he is bursting at the seams. He feels like he has failed and considers ending his life and even wonders if things wouldn’t be better off without him.
That is when Clarence intervenes. George sees for the first time the real impact his decisions made and wants to live again. He returns home to find that all of his friends, family and everyone in town has pitched in to help him out. Compare him to Potter at the end of the film. The old miser is sitting by himself in his office counting money, gloating about how he finally destroyed the Bailey family. George however is surrounded by a circle of warmth, love and friendship. However, in the grand scheme of things, George is the more successful of the two.
Our world is filled with Old Man Potters who want to run us down, to tell us we are failures by some monetary standard. And there are times in our lives where we may feel like George, wondering if it was all worth it as our life seems to crumble around us.
I remember my own. I was in college and had I had hoped to study to become a high school teacher, only to be rejected from the department leaving my dreams shattered. Around January, one of the coldest darkest months of the year, I was in a pit of despair, wondering if it was worth it. What was the point of going to college if I didn’t have a job lined up after graduation? What was the point of even living if there was no employment opportunities for me?
Friends of mine who could only be called Angels, spoke comfort to me. They reminded me through e-mails that I had made a difference to them by being their friend, by encouraging them, and even just by smiling at them and letting them know some one cared. I thought back to the other friends I helped over the years.
It may not be much, but to them it the world to them. There is another quote from the movie that sums it up best. It’s written on a plaque beneath a portrait of George’s late father.
“All you can take with you is that which you give away.”
What does that mean exactly? Simply out, the only things you can really take with you are the gifts of friendship, love and compassion towards others. Those are the kind of things that if you give that way, then you aren’t a failure. Not in the least.
I am grateful to my Angels who reminded me of that. I don’t know where their place in line was for their wings, but I hope they get them soon. So this Christmas season, as the year comes to an end, if you’re feeling like a failure because you don’t have the right job or money or a fancy house or car or a that, close your eyes for a second. Then open them. Look around you. See your family. See your friends. See how you have made a difference in their lives by being a part of it.
And know that you are not a failure.