The FraGEElay Nature of Life: How $2.50 Saved an Entire Town

For my tenth annual iteration of my Christmas Eve(ish) FraGEElay* post, I find my heart dwelling on another Christmas classic: It’s a Wonderful Life. It is my favorite movie, and I have seen it over 100 times. But my viewing of it the other night brought me a new understanding and insight.

The film (for those living in a sad “I haven’t watched IAWL” world) is about George Bailey being shown the impact he has had on his hometown, Bedford Falls, to prove to him in his darkest hour that his town—and the world—need him. But what I realized this last viewing is that the same could be said about the character of Mrs. Davis. Who is Mrs. Davis, you ask? Well, besides growing up to become Grandma Walton, she is the young woman who asks for $17.50 to tide her over until the bank re-opens (during the scene of the bank run of the Great Depression).

Others in the scene ask for $20 (not to mention $242, Tom), and if Mrs. Davis had done the same, there would have been no “mama dollar and papa dollar” left for George to hold in his hands until the final second of the business day. Instead, they would have been 50¢ short and had to close early, which—according to Mr. Potter—meant that they would never reopen. (Yes, I know this calculation doesn’t account for the possibility of others adjusting what they asked for—perhaps the last person would have seen they were going to run out of money and asked accordingly—but the movie is rife with these kinds of “ifs,” so let’s just go with it.)

The defaulting of the Building and Loan would have meant that Potter would own all of Bedford Falls—and people would no longer have the option to borrow money from a company that has a heart and knows and cares for people. They would only be dealing with a wealthy kingpin who has no regard for the “rabble” of his town (sound familiar?)

Yes, yes, yes—of course George matters to the survival of Bedford Falls, but so does Mrs. Davis. That single, small choice—to ask for $2.50 less than the others—resulted in Potter’s being thwarted in amassing more from those who have less (again…sound familiar??) Pottersville be damned.

Life is fragile in so many ways. We continue to deal with a tenacious virus that has now claimed over 800,000 American lives. (When I wrote last year’s post, the number was “only” 334,000.) And beyond its physical death toll, it has revealed and underscored the depths of the disease of polarization, where minorly inconvenient ways to mitigate the spread of the virus turn into majorly appalling actions like threatening the lives of school board members…over a mask mandate. What the holy fahrvergnugen?  

In my estimation, the world is more fragile than ever. From climate change to the weakening of democracy to systemic “isms” that damage and destroy innumerous lives daily, we need to find a way to examine our problems, learn how to fix them, and then take care of business. Cancers don’t go away by refusing to address them or merely casting blame, and neither will any one of the challenges plaguing our fragile world today.

Sure. Okay. I’ll get right on that.

Rather than taking action, though, I find myself untethered and in an overwhelming (and I mean Brené Brown’s “I’m blown” definition of the word) wave of anxiety that comes from thinking about how to even begin to address these problems. What can I possibly do? Is it too late? Is there time? Will anything truly change?

I don’t really know. What I do know, though, is that sometimes, even something as small as Mrs. Davis’ choice can make a big difference. We may not understand it at the time, but it matters.

It matters a great deal.

Life is fraGEElay.

$2.50 saved Bedford Falls.

All hope is not lost.

I wish you a peaceful, safe, and love-filled Christmas and New Year. May we seek and find a way of being better to one another…in our homes, our communities, our nation, and our world.

*If you are unfamiliar with this reference, it comes from the beloved movie “A Christmas Story.” I can no longer see the word “fragile” and pronounce it in any way other than fraGEElay. That must be Italian.

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