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A wonderful life

For many people, a cherished yuletide tradition is watching beloved motion pictures with a Christmas theme, the heartwarming kind that seem never to lose their appeal despite how many times one has viewed them.

One such movie is "It's a Wonderful Life," the 1946 Frank Capra classic starring James Stewart and Donna Reed. Over the years millions have become acquainted with the hero of the story, George Bailey, an Everyman character with sterling nobility whose life is a string of self-sacrifices for the good of others.

George has grandiose plans to leave his small hometown, become an architect and build bridges and skyscrapers, seeing the world and becoming wealthy in the process. But his dreams are postponed and ultimately abandoned as he assumes pressing but comparatively pedestrian duties at home. He forsakes his educational goals to save his father's benevolent and beneficent building-and-loan institution from falling into the clutches of the town miser. He marries a childhood friend; they forego their honeymoon so he can remain at home and see the institution safely through a financial panic. Over time, they rear several children as George's youthful dreams become increasingly elusive.

After a particularly devastating occurrence one Christmas Eve, George is about to take his own life but is rescued by an angel sent to help him who arranges to let George see what things would have been like had he never been born. In this way, he comes to understand how much he has impacted people's lives for the better, just by being who he is.

Undoubtedly, the film is so popular because so many of us can see ourselves in George Bailey. In youth and at the outset of adulthood, we see the world as our oyster, with shining and glamorous pearls there for the taking. Along the way, we get busy with life's duties and demands. At mid-life, some may come to a stark realization that they probably never will attain some of their long-held dreams. Perhaps they lose sight of the significance of what they have accomplished, of how rich they really are, though perhaps not in terms of worldly wealth.

President Joseph F. Smith touched on this theme when he wrote: "Those things which we call extraordinary, remarkable or unusual may make history, but they do not make real life.

"After all, to do well those things which God ordained to be the common lot of all mankind is the truest greatness. To be a successful father or a successful mother is greater than to be a successful general or a successful statesman" (Juvenile Instructor, Dec. 15, 1905, p. 752).

In general conference of May 1982, Elder Howard W. Hunter of the Quorum of the Twelve expanded on this quotation, adding: "To be a successful Primary president or den mother or Spiritual Living teacher or loving neighbor or listening friend is much of what true greatness is all about. To do one's best in the face of the commonplace struggles of life, and possibly in the face of failures, and to continue to endure and persevere with the ongoing difficulties of life — when those struggles and tasks contribute to the progress and happiness of others and the eternal salvation of one's self — this is true greatness."

From a Latter-day Saint standpoint, this perhaps is easier to see when we contemplate that each of us is asked to participate in the great gathering of Israel in this final dispensation preparatory to the Second Coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Everything we are called upon to do in the Church — and as dedicated fathers and mothers in the home — furthers that objective.

"Wherefore, be not weary in well-doing, for ye are laying the foundation of a great work. And out of small things proceedeth that which is great" (Doctrine and Covenants 64:33).

Maybe at some point in God's eternal timetable, we, like George Bailey, will be allowed to see in a way that we cannot know now how much good we are accomplishing just through our personal righteousness, obedience and faithfulness.

Meanwhile, we can draw comfort from a line of dialogue from the movie: "No man is a failure who has friends." That is especially the case when one of those friends is Jesus Christ, for He has said: "I will call you friends, for you are my friends, and ye shall have an inheritance with me —

"I called you servants for the world's sake, and ye are their servants for my sake" (Doctrine and Covenants 93:45-46).

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