It's A Wonderful Life
A movie review by Rev. Marvin Harada

Over the holidays, I had the opportunity to see the classic movie, "It's A Wonderful Life," starring Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed. What a wonderful classic movie it is, and I know that they always show it during the holiday season. I have known about the movie, but just never saw the whole movie before. I still missed part of the beginning, but was able to see most of the movie this time.

I am sure that most of you have seen the movie before, but allow me to recap the highlights for those who have never seen the movie. The movie takes place in a little town called Bedford Falls, and it depicts the life of one individual, George Bailey, played by Jimmy Stewart. It begins when George is a young boy, growing up in Bedford Falls, working in the drugstore, playing with his brother and friends.

The movie then jumps to later years, when George is a young man, falls in love and marries a local girl, Mary, played by Donna Reed. George's father was in the loan business, which George carries on. It is a struggle, but they are able to give loans to many citizens in the town to help them build their homes and businesses. George raises a family, and struggles with his loan business, always competing with miserly tycoon, Mr. Potter, who seeks to take over and control the whole town.

On Christmas Eve, George's uncle inadvertently loses a large $8,000 deposit of George's loan business that was to be placed in the bank. With a bank examiner there that day, this great loss threatens to ruin George's loan business, and may even cause him to go to jail. George is desperate, not knowing what to do or how to raise the $8,000. He even humbles himself and asks the despised Mr. Potter for a loan. Mr. Potter, of course, turns him down. In his desperation he vents his anger to his wife and children, and runs off into the night. Standing by a bridge over a river, George contemplates jumping off, wanting just to end it all. A guardian angel saves George's life, by first jumping in the river, causing George to have to rescue him. Although he has bravely rescued and saved someone's life, George is still despondent, and says to the guardian angel, "I wish I had never been born." The guardian angel, with wisdom and compassion, then grants George his wish, to teach him a lesson in life.

George returns to town, but it is a town that he can barely recognize. The world is now one in which George Bailey never existed, had never been born. George is flabbergasted, and in total disbelief. Where are the homes and businesses that he knew? They aren't there because George wasn't around to give people loans to help them build them. What has happened to his wife and other people in town? Mary never got married, because George was not there for her to fall in love with. Many of the lives of his friends and neighbors turned out much worse, because George wasn’t there to help them. Even his own brother was not alive, because George wasn’t there to save him from drowning when they were kids.

What an eye-opening experience this is for George Bailey. His life somehow did make a difference in this world. The struggling loan business, the little things he did for other people, all were quite significant, when he saw what the world would have been like without him. Now his failing loan business, the possibility of going to jail, none of it mattered anymore. All he wanted was to have his life back. Now he realized how truly rare and precious life was. "Please give me my life back!," he pleads to the guardian angel.

Suddenly George is brought back into the world as before, only now his view, his attitude, his whole perspective on life is totally changed. It is a wonderful life! It is a wonderful life! He returns to discover anew, his wife, his family, his friends and neighbors, his business, with the deepest feeling of joy and gratitude.

I think that this movie is one of the greatest of sermons, only expressed in the form of a film. Of course, I don't believe in guardian angels, or things of that nature, but I think that the reason why this movie is so touching and moving, is that it speaks to each and every human being. We are all George Baileys. We go through life, struggling with our work, trying to be a good husband or wife, father or mother, son or daughter, and it is never easy. Sometimes it is frustrating, sometimes we fail, sometimes we might even reach our wit's end and wish that we could end it all. Why was I even born, anyway? Just to suffer? Just to struggle like this? It's just not fair. I wish that I had never been born.

But if we could meet a guardian angel, or in the case of Buddhism, if we can meet with the Dharma, and good friends and teachers of the Dharma, then we will awaken to a different world, a different perspective of life. We will see that all of life's little frustrations, its obstacles and roadblocks, don't really amount to a hill of beans, when viewed from the awakened perspective, from the perspective of George Bailey who has seen the world without his life, or more importantly, life, without him.

In our everyday life, somehow we fail to truly see, to truly appreciate and treasure, our work, our homes, our family, our friends, and even life itself. What a fortunate man George Bailey was, to have been given that lesson, to have been given a new life once again. Wouldn't it be nice if each of us could for just a while, be given a chance to see what the world would have been like had we not been born, like George Bailey? We may not be able to meet with a guardian angel to receive such a wonderful lesson, but we can meet with the teachings, that are like the guardian angel, awakening us to what truly is our life.

Every week, we read in the Three Treasures, "Hard is it to be born into human life, now we are are living it. Difficult is it to hear the teachings of the blessed one. Now we hear it." This passage is like the guardian angel, showing us what is the reality of our life. To be born into this world, to have this life, is a most rare and precious occurrence. It should not be taken lightly, nor for granted.

If we could see what life would be like, had we not been born, we would realize how truly fortunate we are to simply be in this world. With such a view of life, no amount of personal or business failure, no amount of misfortune or bad luck, no amount of trouble or turmoil could obstruct one from seeing that ultimately, life truly is wonderful.

As we welcome a new year, a new century, a new millenium, may each and every one of us, like George Bailey, reflect on and awaken to the truth of the Dharma that allows us to say from the bottom of our hearts, "It’s a wonderful life."

Namuamidabutsu,
Rev. Marvin Harada

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