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It’s a Wonderful Life

November 30, 2018
By Darren Fraser , Emmetsburg News

Next month, Main Street Community Theater stages "It's a Wonderful Life." The play, of course, is based on the 1946 Frank Capra classic; a movie that has become synonymous with Christmas. What is often overlooked is the flipside of the film-man's not so wonderful nature.

Do not worry-this column will not be a downer. Bear with me. In the film, Lionel Barrymore's evil Mr. Potter is pitted against the inherent-albeit, nave-goodness of Jimmy Stewart's George Bailey. But what is Potter, really?

Potter represents progress-the good, the bad and the ugly. Potter is a curmudgeon; but he is no misanthrope, if we consider that what he wants is to drag Bedford Falls into the 20th century. Admittedly, the Potterville depicted in George's alternative universe is not a nice place, which is an accurate depiction of the downside of industry and urban sprawl.

Bailey's Bedford Falls, the one he leaves and returns to, is idyllic. People care about each other; they're neighborly; they are willing to lend a hand.

One recent report notes one-third of Americans do not know their neighbors. This would never happen in Bedford Falls. Or in Emmetsburg. One can argue that small towns promote familiarity. A more cynical view is living in a small town is like living in an eyedropper. I know during my first six months here, I met befriended most of my upstairs neighbors, but I could not tell you the names of any of the renters living below me.

I wrote at the outset this will not be a depressing read. If the worst this life has to offer is ignorance of our fellow citizens, it would indeed be a wonderful life. But we know there are events in this life that defy explanation. There is senseless violence. The deaths of innocents. Systemic poverty. Unbelievable suffering. And starvation.

Case in point: while researching the number of soybean farmers who were forced to plow under their crops because of tariffs, I ran across an article on Yemen. According to the piece, 85,000 Yemenis are at risk for starvation because of the Saudi-led coalition attempting to drive out the Houthis in the country. Farmers forced to destroy crops while 85,000 are on the brink of starvation?

Our world gives us new examples each day of man's cruelty and nature's indifference. Mass shootings. War. Fires from hell. Hurricanes. What are we supposed to make of these events and how do we reconcile enjoying our lives when so many suffer?

Part of God's plan say the believers. I do not necessarily disagree. But for the more secularly inclined, I offer a different explanation. I do not pretend to possess a priori knowledge on these things; what little wisdom I have gleaned comes through experience. And as hackneyed, pat and simplistic as my dubious explanation may sound, I stick by it if for no other reason I have not heard a better one.

This is a wonderful life because for whatever reason, we were born into. If this is the handiwork of a divine architect or unmoved mover, I do not know. What I do know is during my 55 years, I have found that kindness, respect, caring and compassion are about as close to godliness as I can get.



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