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The Richest Man in Town

In the classic film, It's a Wonderful Life, George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) discovers—to his great joy—that he really is the richest man in town. He didn't, of course, arrive at this realization quickly or easily but through great pain and confusion. Truth be told, that is where we are most of the time ...fighting for meaning and significance like George.

I have arrived at that time of life (for the past several years really) when, for some reason—spiritual, emotional, biological(?), I have the unavoidable task of evaluating of my life up till now. This task presses in not from an outside authority; God, church, employers do not require it of me. I haven't had a great legal crisis like George Bailey, or a severe illness like some others have had. Rather it comes from inside of myself—from some internal, psycho-spiritual voice that wells up insistently, wanting to be heard, demanding to be answered. Yet, even though it is a voice I seem to hear, it is also, at the same time, a voice with which I speak. It is my inner voice speaking ...and my inner ear listening.

But there is no answer; I will never measure up so I try to ignore it. My friends say, "don't waste your time with this melancholy, Joe, it's not worth it." I listen to them respectfully and go away quietly.

Now go back with me to George Bailey and Bedford Falls, to the part of the story where the townspeople, almost in a panic, crowded into Bailey Bros. Building and Loan to get their money. George had his honeymoon money but he knew that would not cover the demand for withdrawals. Remember what he said to the unreasonable man who demanded his entire balance?

Your money is not here in the vault, my friend. It's in Bert's house and Ernie's house; it's in Mr. Martini's house. Your money went to build their homes and their money went to build yours. Now how much do you really need to get by? (Source of quote: an inexact memory)

And so it is with us. Our crisis of identity is like a run on the bank. We think we have to have our answers immediately when really we should be keeping the faith that we have been keeping quietly, unknowingly all along. But listen to George Bailey. He is telling us that my life is in yours and yours is in mine. We have invested our love and our passion in so many lives, in so many places, in so many seasons. We have even, on occasion, thrown caution to the wind, diving headlong, vulnerable, just to give of ourselves, mixed motives and all—admittedly. And we also have received much, maybe not always even noticing, nevertheless we know beyond a doubt it was love that gave to us.

And who are we that we should demand such an accounting? And from who shall we demand it? From God, from friends, from the business community or our church? And do we really want to withdraw it all? I don't think so. That would close our account and end the relationship. Besides, our houses aren't finished yet and are certainly in no condition to put on the market.

Copyright © 2002 Greyfort Publishing

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Photo of Josephus Aloysius (alias Joseph Perry) by John Randall Moody
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