Chaplain (Captain) Lindsey Moser
Virginia Wing, Civil Air Patrol
On every Christmas Eve I can remember, my family has kept a tradition of watching the 1946 Frank Capra classic, It’s a Wonderful Life. If you have never seen the movie, this film stars James (Jimmy) Stewart and Donna Reed as George and Mary Bailey, a young couple struggling to nourish a happy life against the backdrop of World War II and the seemingly unflappable success of their peers. George yearns to travel beyond the limits of sleepy little Bedford Falls. Instead, his father passes away unexpectedly, compelling him to take over the family building and loan; his brother goes off to college, and George helps pay for his education; and the war encroaches on the tightly-knit community, anchoring George in the same town with the same people year after year, while the howl of trains and roar of motors go on without him as a passenger. When George is falsely accused of embezzlement and faced with bankruptcy on top of arrest, he is so distressed that he prepares to jump off a bridge but sees another man take a flying leap into the freezing water. George saves the man, only to find that out that the man is his guardian angel, Clarence, sent to show George what the world would be like without him. George Bailey is given the unique chance to see what the world would be like without him. When he protests at the shocking contrast of a Bedford Falls without a George Bailey, Clarence tells him that he really has had a wonderful life. The quintessential ending is tear-jerking, with every character bursting into the Bailey house with cash to save George and the familiar notes of “Auld Lang Syne” bringing the film to a cheerful close.
No matter how many times I see this movie, I’m always convinced of the mysterious way life changes underneath us. Just when George thought he was leaving for college or hopping on the next train, he found people who needed him, jobs to do, a war to fight, and goals to meet, even though they were often the opposite of what he had planned. George is an everyman character: we can all identify with the pain of making difficult decisions that keep us from reaching our goals. We can all empathize with the death of a personal vision. This month’s Character Development lesson focused on these twin subjects: goals and vision. I appreciate the lesson’s distinction between these ideas: “the vision is the what and the goals are the how.” A vision is like a dream whereas the goals are the smaller steps to reach that dream. The lesson gives this memory tool for deciding what our goals should be: SMART, standing for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time bound. As I reflected on this classic American film, which traces the ups and downs of George’s life, I realized that George met each of these criteria in his own goals, yet he found satisfaction and true joy not when he reached his goals but when he realized the love of the people around him. He never went to college, he never built giant bridges and skyscrapers, he never had a picture-perfect marriage or family. George discovers that, despite this, he ends up with a truly “wonderful” life.
Having a vision and mapping out goals to achieve your vision is important and necessary. However, what happens if we never see that vision unfold, like George did? What happens if we realize we can meet only half our goals, or none of them at all? If we don’t reach these benchmarks, does it mean we have failed? Did George fail because he never got to study architecture in the quiet halls of a prestigious university? Did he fail because he stayed in Bedford Falls with his family instead of accepting the illustrious job offer his nemesis, Mr. Potter, offers him at a turning point in his life?
Our vision and goals must have the flexibility and grace to withstand the patterns and changes of life. Instead of being stubborn rocks, we should be like the water that cuts through the rocks: steady, moving in a direction, but willing to shift and change. It’s a Wonderful Life is a fictional account of a man who had a vision and goals, but the bigger story this movie tells is one we all connect with, and that’s how important it is to believe in the love of others. At the end of the day, George finds his true satisfaction isn’t in his big plans, but the life he has been gifted and the love of his family and friends.
Have a vision and make goals that are SMART, but never forget you have a wonderful life already.
This Month’s Reflection
Are there some goals that you aren’t able to meet? How has this affected your perspective of your life? How much of your vision for your life is fueled by the encouragement from people around you? If you are struggling with toxic or unhealthy relationships, reach out to someone you trust: a parent or guardian, a local clergy member, an older mentor, a school counselor, or a chaplain or CDI at your local squadron, and talk to them about how you can develop strong, loving, and healthy relationships.
Image provided by Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11445298.