December 23, 2010


The real, “It’s a Wonderful Life” was originally called “The Greatest Gift. The short story was written by Philip Van Doren Stern and appeared in the magazine, “Good Housekeeping” in January, 1944. While the film classic, directed by Frank Capra, starring Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed, honors the spirit of the written version, there are significant deviations. Stern’s story doesn’t take place at Christmas. What’s more there is no crisis brought on by a run on the bank and no evil banker, the part played so deliciously by Lionel Barrymore. George Pratt, the central character, does consider his life a failure; he does meet his guardian angel while he contemplates suicide and he does return to town where his friends and family fail to recognize him. But the angel he meets isn’t called Clarence, the part immortalized by Henry Travers in the film, and the tinkling of bells doesn’t come to signify an angel getting its wings.

In the written version, George manages to save the life of his child when he remembers the angel’s words: “You had the greatest gift of all conferred upon you – the gift of being a part of this world…  Yet you denied that gift.”  Filled with remorse, he asks for his old life back. With his request granted, his child’s life is restored.

As I grew up with the film version before I knew the written one existed, in this season I tend to favor spending an evening with Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed.  But both versions are important because each asks us to pause to honor our contributions to life. One doesn’t have to witness the outrage of battle to give comfort to someone who is dying. Providing dignity to the infirm is a gift people give every day and making a contribution to ease the economic stress of others is common. We can… we do make a difference.

My Christmas wish to all is that our lives continue to be filled with random acts of kindness, shiny gifts that leave the world a better place than we found it.