Sometimes, it's not such a wonderful life.
Sometimes, when you hit December, this time of good cheer and good will toward men, you're running low on both. You are tired. You have been beaten down by a world of bad will and bad tidings, and if success ever came calling on you, there'd probably be no room at the inn.
For trouble, there's plenty of room. Because that's how the world rolls.
You feel alone in the world, and if your mother told you she loved you, you'd feel compelled to confirm it with at least two independent sources. Preferably, there would be something on paper somewhere -- not that you would be able to find it.
Meantime, being that the world has you convinced you're a great big failure, you seek inspiration among folks our world holds up as successful. You take a hard look at who they are and how they got where you'd like to be . . . and you conclude that if these societal role models were in Texas, somebody surely would say they "just need killin'." (See "Investment bankers, Wall Street.")
Then you conclude that's just false hope talking.
SO THERE you are. Feeling alone. Stressed out. A giant, screaming failure -- one way or another. You don't love you, and you're fairly certain God is ambivalent on the subject.
Merry expletive-deleted Christmas. The only reason you didn't get pepper sprayed at Wal-Mart on Black Friday was because the last shred of dignity you have left hinges on not being the sort of person who puts himself in a position to get pepper sprayed at Wal-Mart on Black Friday. So you have that going for you, at least.
Zuzu feels your pain.
Well, at least Karolyn Grimes -- she who was so sure about what happened to angels whenever a bell rang in It's a Wonderful Life -- feels your pain. Being a movie icon offers little protection when the world decides to crash down upon you.
But sometimes, underneath the rubble and amid the ruin, there is a wisdom that surpasses what we understood to be true. We live, we suffer and -- as "Zuzu" tells The Washington Post from the perspective of now being 71 and having suffered . . . a lot -- the truth is where it is.
And God is where He is. Which isn't necessarily where we presume Him to be.
“My life has never been wonderful,” she offered quietly. “Maybe when I was a child, but not after age 15.”THINK ABOUT THAT for several moments.
“And maybe that’s what makes the film so important for me and a lot of other people,” she continued. “The Jimmy Stewart George is suffering terribly in the movie — you can just see it. He’s in Martini’s café and saying to himself, ‘God, I’m not a praying man, but please show me the way.’ ”
“Gosh, it makes me cry,” she said.
“It’s not a Christmas movie, not a movie about Jesus or Bethlehem or anything religious like that,” she insisted. “It’s about how we have to face life with a lot of uncertainty, and even though nobody hears it, most of us ask God to show us the way when things get really hard.
“That was part of Capra’s genius,” she said. “Everybody has some sorrow, worry, and everybody asks God for help. One way or the other, we all do, and it can be in Martini’s, not a church on Christmas.”
Francis Caraccilo, a preservationist in Seneca Falls and an organizer of the annual “It’s a Wonderful Life” celebration, believes Capra’s film addresses other important issues. “For a lot of historians and people who just watch the film closely, the movie’s relevance includes the fact that it addresses anti-immigrant sentiments and religious bigotry,” pointing to the scene where the evil banker Potter complains that George Bailey is helping “garlic eaters” buy homes.
“Italian Americans appear throughout the film,” said Caraccilo, himself an Italian American. “When Capra came through this town, it was clear that anti-immigrant and not-too-subtle hostility toward Catholics was part of the American social landscape in 1946.”
“There’s a generous heart in this movie,” he said. “Think about that for a moment in 2011.”
Maybe life is wonderful, after all. Maybe what's not so wonderful is how much room we allow Henry F. Potter in our hearts and in our culture . . . and how little is left for George Bailey. We say we long for Bedford Falls, yet we double down on the Pottersville that we've been sold.
You could pray about this at your church of the almighty annual appeal and happy-clappy, dinner-theater hymns to the triumphant self. On the other hand, you could get serious, pop into Martini's, order a double bourbon and go for broke.
"Dear Father in heaven, I'm not a praying man, but if you're up there and can hear me, show me the way. I'm at the end of my rope. Show me the way, God."