There is something appropriate about gearing up for a project like this at this particular time of year. I think I was only struck by it yesterday when I was wandering around a replica Victorian street in a museum in the heart of a Medieval city watching Ebenezer Scrooge undergo his own transformation. As I followed the actors around while they performed, it struck me how much like ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is. Both feature a man who is in despair and at rock bottom in their own ways – one financially and one emotionally. For their own reasons, each finds no pleasure in life, until ghosts or a precocious angel, second class, show them how. As I watched Scrooge’s Christmases past, I realised that here was a man being shown just how wonderful his life was, if only he had recognised it. And anyone who knows ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ knows that Clarence shows George just how much he meant to his small little world in Bedford Falls. The underlying message of both of these stories is that life is a precious gift if we choose to engage with it. George Bailey did this, but briefly lost sight of it. Ebenezer had long since forgotten other men in his loneliness and quest for financial security.
I think many of us these days are stuck in the gap between wanting to be George Bailey, but probably being a bit more like Ebenezer Scrooge. Goodness knows I am. I was so scared of everything falling apart, so scared of not being able to afford a place to live or food. I withdrew from the world, a bit like Scrooge, and yes, it probably made me a little bit bitter and definitely cynical about the world. But, this coming year is my reawakening – like Scrooge’s on Christmas day. It is my moment to try to find the George Bailey in myself again. To share more. To laugh more. To love more. And to help my fellow humans more.
I think the biggest lesson from each of these is that in order to change your world, you can only change yourself. If you are in a situation you don’t like, do something about it. Because George Baily had supported the community, they came together to support him. Ebenezer withdrew, but came out of his shell to redevelop a community, a family he had lost or never had. The saying ‘Be the change you want to see in the world’ really comes through in these stories. And so does the message, you can’t give if you are empty. You have to take care of yourself to be able to give things to others. Change your response to the situation, and it can change the situation. George and Ebenezer did.