One of the side effects of writing this blog is that I’m constantly in the traveler mindset. I notice a lot of things that I’ve never picked up on before. I must have seen It’s a Wonderful Life a thousand times, but it never resonated with me quite the way as it did this past Christmas Eve.
This time around I was repeatedly struck by George Bailey’s ongoing and frequently thwarted dreams of traveling the world (If you need a refresher on the movie’s plot, click here). George fantasizes about South America, Europe and the Caribbean. He collects National Geographic’s and loves trains, planes and automobiles. If you are reading this, you can probably relate.
George doesn’t get to realize his dream. Circumstances repeatedly interrupt his attempts to make it out of the little town of Bedford Falls. Family, business issues and the Great Depression delay him. Time and time again George is forced to put off his dreams until he gives up on them completely.
George is constantly putting others before himself and works selflessly to benefit his family and his community. This is incredibly admirable, and I could never argue otherwise. I could however; point out that he tries to throw himself off a bridge. After thirty plus years of ignoring his own needs and dreams he completely snaps.
I get the impression that there are a lot of people out there leading lives of quiet desperation. When we put our all into a lifestyle that we don’t want or love, the results are never idyllic. George loves his family, but he clearly resents them because he is so unhappy. He doesn’t value his life or his achievements, going as far as to wish he’d never been born. Obviously this is extreme but I think it does illustrate the hollowness of achievements when you aren’t passionate.
I think that a lot of times in life, we feel as if we don’t have choices or can’t follow the road we’d like. We feel the need to please
others, or are trapped by our responsibilities- to our job, our family or our self. Sometimes things happen that are out of our control and we have to readjust our plans.
What we can control is our responses to these hurdles. I’m not saying we should abandon our responsibilities, but I think we owe it to ourselves not to make them into excuses. There will always be reasons NOT to do something, reasons not to travel. The triumph is in finding the solutions and workarounds to do it anyways. People travel with their children, they travel with disabilities, and they travel with little or no money. When the will is strong enough, the rest falls into place.
At the end of It’s a Wonderful Life, George learns that life is indeed worthwhile. That being alive at all is a gift in and of itself. The message I take away is that we get one shot at life, and that we absolutely must make the most of that chance.