Friday, April 1, 2016

"Does my life really matter?"

That's the question George Bailey asked in the classic Frank Capra film, "Its a Wonderful Life." The movie was so unpopular when released in 1946 that the studio never renewed its copyright, which meant TV stations could soon play it free. After 20 years, it suddenly became a holiday hit, and in 1980 reporters began calling Karolyn Grimes, who is now 75, to ask, "Did you play ZuZu Bailey in that film?" She admitted she was George Bailey's six-year-old with the wilted rose petals. Her part in the movie lasted only six minutes, but her final words, spoken in the scene shown here, became famous. "Look, Daddy. Teacher says every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings!"

                                                                                                                       Hulton Archives/Getty
Grimes' life after the movie was "wonderful" because it taught her tragedy equips us to help others. Her Mom died when she was 14, and her Dad was killed one year later in a car accident. Raised by relatives, she went to college and became a medical technologist. After having two daughters, she and her husband divorced and then he was killed while deer hunting. When she remarried a few years later, she and her second husband had a combined total of six kids, until her 18-year-old son committed suicide. This tragedy deeply affected her husband, who she nursed for a year until he died of cancer. By now, she had retired from medical work and suffered a financial setback in the recession of 2000, so she went on the road as an advocate of "It's a Wonderful Life." Her third husband, psychologist Chris Brunell, has supported her in this role for more than 15 years.

Does she feel her life was worth living? Yes. And why? Because people she meets from coast to coast often cry when telling how much the movie helped them. One man in his 40's said that as a boy he wanted to kill himself. He loaded his Dad's rifle and took it to his bedroom, but he decided not to fire the gun inside the house. As he was leaving the house with the rifle, he noticed "It's a Wonderful Life" playing on TV. He stopped to watch, and when the movie ended, he put his Dad's rifle back on the gun rack and never considered suicide again."

Grimes explains why the movie still heals grief today. "It's not about Christmas, not about Jesus," she says. "It's about how we have to face life with a lot of uncertainty, and even though nobody hears it, most of us ask God to show us the way when things get really hard, and like in the film, it can be in Martini's Bar, not in a church." After you see the 5-minute interview with Karolyn linked here, I bet you'll glance toward the sky and say, "Atta boy, Clarence!"

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