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.

Blank Canvases

I must admit that, though my mom died well over a year ago, I haven’t fully dealt with all of her belongings yet. I mean…my sister and I have gone through all that we are aware of, but there were times where certain things got the “to be dealt with more fully later” stamp. One group that got that stamp was all of her art supplies.

Many years ago, my mom shared how she wanted to paint…she felt that she might be decent at it. Given that one of my roles with her was lifelong cheerleader, I took that confession as an opportunity to facilitate that desire. Paints…brushes…an apropos French easel…she had her own personal kickstarter campaign.

Relatively early on in the whole process, she painted a lovely winter scene…and got a lot of positive reinforcement for her work. Everyone who saw it was impressed and complimented her. It should have been a great catalyst to continue exploring her creativity.

But while she did paint some…it was more accurate to describe her as someone who wanted to paint rather than a painter. “Are oils too much work? How about acrylics? Watercolor? Maybe pastels or charcoal?” I would bring home all different mediums for her to try, but many remained untouched. I tried hard to understand what was standing in her way.

She was.

Excuse after excuse would always pop up. “If I had that wall shelf installed, then I would be able to set things up like I want…” Shelf installed…no painting. “I just need better lighting…” Special easel light bought…no painting. Even an art class didn’t do more than help her complete the class project. No matter what obstacle was overcome, for the most part, the canvases remained blank.

“Mom…why aren’t you painting?” She never really answered the question. One day I asked her if the blank canvas made it too hard for her to begin? Was it too intimidating and asking for more than she thought she could do? Did she feel like each attempt had to be something “good”? Yes, she admitted. She was putting pressure on herself to do something good…and that pressure was resulting in doing nothing rather than just doing something.

I encouraged her to just…paint. Just put something on the canvas as practice with no pressure to have the outcome be anything at all. Just…paint.

I could empathize with her because I know the blank page of a writer can feel just as daunting. Just…write.

Ultimately and sadly, she let the blank canvases win. There was no amount of cheerleading or facilitating that could make her face whatever it was that kept her from moving from wanting to doing.

Later in her life I brought her coloring books so that she wouldn’t even have to think of the blank page and only choose the colors, but by that time she could no longer concentrate or keep her hand steady enough to stick with it for more than a few minutes. Her window of creativity was closed.

My mom’s choices in her efforts at painting are a metaphor for too many of her life choices, as well. She often chose the road of inertia rather than risk…and that meant she left a whole lot of life unlived that could have been so much more. Empty, missed opportunities instead of beautiful experiences of color and texture and joy. You may think I’m being hard in my assessment here, but trust me…I knew the woman. The metaphor fits.

This past weekend, I went through her art stuff. There were a small number of pieces that she had worked on over the years, but they were far outnumbered by blank canvases.

Stories that were never told.

And so I decided I’m not going to leave them blank.

Though writing is where I feel most at home, I am going to fill those damn canvases.

I don’t know with what or how, and I guarantee the results won’t be pretty…but at least they will indeed be.

The above photo includes all of my mom’s paintings—except for the winter scene that I mention as her initial try.

Standing at a Crossroads

My husband and I have an unspoken list of movies that we see over and again, particularly late at night when we should be mature and get some rest, but instead we watch the last hour of Braveheart or Shawshank Redemption. It’s a codependent sickness—or gift—depending on your perspective.

One of those movies is Cast Away. I’m going to assume most of you have seen it at this point, but if you haven’t and intend to, then…what are you waiting for? The movie is 14 years old. Consider this a spoiler alert, because I am going to talk about the ending of the movie.

After four years keeping himself alive on a deserted island, in large part keeping the will to live by remembering his fiancé back home, Tom Hanks’ character, Chuck Noland, is rescued only to find that his fiancé has moved on…like marriage-with-another-guy and already-has-a-child moved on. Sometimes I want to slap Helen Hunt. All that in four years? As it turns out, she loves Chuck, but she’s not leaving her marriage.




Chuck now has to figure out what this new—and very different—world holds for him, and he drives off not knowing at all what that may be. Near the very end of the movie, he is standing—literally—at a crossroads. It is a wide open space from which to decide. He gets a little bit of a nudge when the beautiful woman who belongs to the last package he delivered stops and lets him know where each road leads. His smile indicates that he just may choose the same one that she heads down.


you are here_w dot


I was pretty young when I recognized that my life was meant to be lived in chapters, particularly in my work life. I realized it is just who I am. Several chapters have already been written, but now, I, too, stand at a crossroads.

This crossroads was not one I headed toward on my own, and so I can relate to Hanks’ character looking into the vast unknown and scratching his head.

I’m no longer in my 20s with my life ready to unfold…there’s been plenty of unraveling already. But…so what? What does that really mean? I love the quote that writer Connie Schultz shared about a friend of hers who was going into med school at 42. People said to her, “but you’ll be 50 by the time you are a doctor…” Her response? “I’m going to be 50 someday anyway. I may as well be 50 and a doctor.”

Time is all in how you approach it, right?

Of course, there is no promise of tomorrow.

Just last night I was looking over a tribute page on Facebook of those from my high school class who are no longer with us. Well over a dozen—and that’s just the ones that were shared on the tribute page. Lives cut short from what we assume to be an “average” life span. But no one’s life is average.

You really can’t assume you have an allotted amount of time in this world, and that’s why I get so frustrated with myself when I feel as though I am letting it slip away.


clock of life


Time is the great leveler. Some people are rich, some poor, some quick-minded, some fleet of foot. But everyone gets exactly 24 hours in a day (or 23 hours, 56 minutes, 4.0916 seconds for you literalists out there). What we do with our equal allotment is up to us.

So…which road to take? In fact, where are the roads?

The white noise that floods my head on a daily basis makes it a little challenging to figure out what my next right step is, but I am searching for the quiet in order to better hear the Answer to which path is meant for me.

If God could program my GPS, that would help, but so far he hasn’t worked that way. So far he has given me an internal compass that I need to follow. I just need to pull away from the metal interference that is jamming my reading, and perhaps then I’ll see my true north.

For each of us who face one kind of a crossroads or another, the decisions that must come from it are often not easy to make. The more you have traveled, the more baggage (both good and bad) you carry. The more baggage, the more to consider. The more to consider, the more complicated the choice. But while it is not easy, it is a choice that must be made—otherwise you will simply be left in the middle of the road scratching your head. And sooner or later, you’re going to get hit by a truck and who wants that?

And so I find myself staring at my map and figuring out my direction.

It is indeed a journey—and one I am blessed to travel—even when the path remains yet to be seen. 


 “…I know what I have to do now. I gotta keep breathing. Because tomorrow the sun will rise. Who knows what the tide could bring?”

~Chuck Noland (Tom Hanks) in Cast Away


All photos are my own.
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