When it comes to the classic Christmas film “It’s a Wonderful Life,” am I the only one who wonders what eventually happened to Mr. Potter? Is it too much to think that the villainous banker of Bedford Falls might one day sit with the Bailey family at the Christmas Eve service at church?
As much as I love Frank Capra’s timeless holiday movie, I would have preferred a different ending. I wish there had been some kind of reconciliation between the two foes. A storybook ending to my favorite movie seems as unlikely, however, as a happily-ever-after script in Washington D.C.
But it’s not just in politics where we see the fabric of our union being pulled apart by polarizing perspectives. It’s evident in religious preferences, lifestyle choices, health care options and views on gun control.
Even though “It’s a Wonderful Life” ends with unresolved conflict between the two lead characters, the people of Bedford Falls exhibit the kind of lifestyle I long for. It’s uncomplicated. There is a culture of acceptance, self-sacrifice, cooperation and contentment. It’s my kind of town.
Last December I visited Seneca Falls, the small town in upstate New York that many people think inspired Frank Capra’s fictional Bedford Falls. I was invited to preach at the local Presbyterian church, do a workshop on the movie and sign copies of my book (“Finding God in It’s a Wonderful Life”). In addition to appearing with the aging actors who played the Bailey kids 70 years earlier, I met Donna Reed’s daughter and Frank Capra’s granddaughter.
As I strolled through the town, snow began falling on the quaint storefront buildings of Fall Street. I pictured myself encountering Violet Bick, Sam (Hee Haw) Wainwright and Uncle Billy while walking by Gower’s Drugstore, the Bijou Theatre and the Building and Loan.
In Seneca Falls, where the Republican Party was born and the Women’s Rights Movement came of age, townsfolk and business leaders have joined hands to sponsor the IAWL Festival each year. In so doing they are perpetuating the popularity of a movie that celebrates the payoff of working together. In Seneca Falls (like Bedford Falls) I glimpsed what I hoped might be a prototype for cooperation in our divided culture.
The Sunday I preached at “the real Bedford Falls,” something occurred that gave me reason to hope that a positive ending to my favorite movie and our polarized nation might just be possible.
Quite by chance two couples who had never met were seated next to each other on the front pew of the church. Both couples had traveled a great distance to attend the festival. Following the service they introduced themselves to me as the Baileys and the Potters. What? Really? I looked at the visitor registry in the narthex to make sure. I could hardly believe what I saw.
And get this. Mr. Bailey’s first name actually was George. That “God wink” gave me cause to think that those who approach life from different perspectives can actually sit down together and find a common purpose. And at this time of year we are reminded that such a common purpose is ours to embrace. He is called Emmanuel … “God with us!”
Rev. Greg Asimakoupoulos is the full-time chaplain at Covenant Shores Retirement Community on Mercer Island. He is the faith and values columnist for the Reporter.