The heroes next door

It’s been a rough year all around. We’ve really been through a lot these past 11 months. The media has yet to recover from their collective mental breakdown caused by the perceived presence of a usurper in the Oval Office. Just when we thought the craziest thing on college campuses was the tuition rates, we’ve seen the advent of the anti-free speech generation which seeks out safe spaces to hide from ideas and words that frighten them.

A murderous dictator with nuclear weapons, and one very bad haircut, constantly threatens the U.S. with annihilation. Oh, and as if all of this isn’t bad enough, apparently the Black Plague has returned.

When faced with all of these “big world” problems, it’s always nice to be able to fall back on good moments happening in your own life; except when those good moments seem few and far between. Perhaps, you’ve been working so many hours lately that you have had little time for friends and family.

Or, maybe you’ve been confounded by the dilemma of getting a child through college without accumulating a mountain of debt because you make too much money to get any meaningful aid, but not enough to actually afford to pay for your child’s college tuition. Weird how that works, isn’t it?

Many times these problems are mixed with a generous dose of typical family worries – like the costs of necessities such as food, fuel, and healthcare increasing at a pace far beyond your annual pay raise.

Not to mention the perils of trying to raise good kids in the face of a near constant flow of bad influences arising from their unfiltered access to really just about anything you can imagine.

I don’t know about you, but this year has really worn me out. Although I am normally firmly in the glass-half-full camp, my optimism has met an unwavering foe in the goings on of 2017.

And when you lump all of this worrisome stuff together, you can sometimes struggle to identify any reason to have hope that tomorrow will be a better day.

Well, that’s the kind of place I felt myself in. You know, someplace between “What’s the point of even trying?” and “What’s gone wrong now?”

So, I did what I always do when I feel hopelessness is winning the day. I hid in the pantry closet and played video games on my phone. Just kidding, … a little.

Sadly, not even short-term escapism into the virtual world of my smartphone could help lift my spirits. I was in a real life “break the glass in case of emergency” kind of moment. Luckily, we’re entering the holiday season and I sought solace in my favorite film, which is also a holiday classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

In my overly developed cinematic opinion, honed over countless hours of movie-watching, it is likely the greatest American film ever made. This was surely the ticket to release me from my doldrums.

I’m sure you’ve all seen It’s a Wonderful Life at least once, if not a dozen times. It takes place in the fictional small city/large town of Bedford Falls N.Y., which is not unlike my adopted hometown. Throughout the movie, there are struggles – the death of a father, the Great Depression, World War II. The main character, George Bailey, when faced with a likely ruinous financial crisis questions whether everyone would have been better off if he were never born, and his guardian angel shows him how silly that notion is. But, for the very first time, as the movie ended, I realized that George Bailey was not the hero of the film.

In the climactic scene, everyone from his community of Bedford Falls comes to George Bailey’s home on Christmas Eve and reaches into their pocket to provide financial help to a man in need. And I mean everyone. From the cleaning lady, to the pharmacist, and from the neighbor to the wealthy friend.

If they weren’t rich, it really didn’t matter whether they could afford to spare their contribution. To George Bailey’s richest acquaintance, Sam Wainwright, the fact that George had constantly turned down his lucrative job offers and had stolen his girlfriend years ago did not prevent him from helping a friend.

So many people from so many different walks of life stepped up to save George Bailey’s bacon. By every measure, that makes them the true heroes of the story, and what really struck me is that these people, these amazing people, who interrupted their holiday and answered the call to help someone in need, were just ordinary people whose families lived, worked, laughed, worried, prayed, and died right there in the same town with George Bailey. His heroes were not sent from far away. Everything George Bailey and his neighbors needed to be happy was right there in Bedford Falls. It was each other.

Ultimately, our lives are not about what’s going on in Berkley, California or Pyongyang, North Korea.

Our lives are about what’s going in our home, our backyard, our neighborhood, and our community. If we could manage to waste a little less time being concerned, and sometimes even outraged, by things that are occurring thousands of miles away, and spent a few more moments just being kind to the person a few feet away, I really think it would go a long way toward improving everyone’s outlook on life.

I know this realization has helped my outlook.

So, as we enter this holiday season, make the effort to put your worries aside, focus on the people around you rather than far off people and events, and remember that you are whole lot like the heroes of America’s greatest film ever.

Zicolello is a local attorney.

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