It has taken me many years to fully come to terms with this, and it is something I often have to remind myself of to this day. But it’s important. And, as I have since childhood, I’m going to frame it in the context of something that is easier for me to understand and explain – film.
You don’t need to be Sam Wainwright to matter.
In the film, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” George Bailey’s friend Sam is a successful businessman who has gone out into the world and made a lot of money while George has stayed in Bedford Falls and reluctantly carried on the family business of the Savings and Loan.
George Bailey had big plans for his life. He was going to see the world. He was going to have adventures across the globe. But he didn’t. He stayed in his hometown, married, fixed up a drafty old house, had a few kids, and did what he could to help his friends. There were times, though, when life got tough, overwhelming, and it drove George to really question his place in the world amid his friends who went off and did big things.
When I was younger, I used to think I was so important to the universe. That I was meant for great things, which led to massive bouts of sadness, frustration and disappointment when I would feel that I wasn’t living up to those expectations, especially as I got older and life changed, took off in various directions, etc.
But what I’ve come to realize is that we all are important to this universe, for different reasons. Sometimes those great things are on a smaller scale and not as grandiose as you may think.
I’ve sat and wallowed in disappointment that I’m not doing the big things. Not writing the great American novel. Not writing sought-after screenplays, television shows, mainstream comic books and cartoons. Not making big budget movies and kidding around with stars.
And that is all okay. You know why?
Because none of it matters.
The people I spend my time with, be they my wife, my son, or our friends and family, are genuinely invested in us and our lives, as we are theirs.
Someone famous or well-known may follow you on Twitter and hey, that’s cool. But unless they’re coming over to the house for dinner or helping you out when that flat tire comes on your car, the real-life relationships on your journey are what will matter in the bigger picture.
I’m not bashing those who get excited because someone with a blue check mark on social media gave them a shout out or a follow. What I’m saying is, don’t make it your world. Make those around you, really around you, physically and emotionally your world. That will count for more than any number of online followers, fans or likes. Trust me.
I’ll say it again because I can’t say it enough. Because I have to remind myself of it on those days when I wonder what happened, how did I get here, and wonder about my place in the world – You don’t have to be Sam Wainwright.
You don’t have to be the major success of your town, of your work, of your friends. Just be a George Bailey. Be a good friend. Be a good person.
Be the person who has been intertwined in people’s lives in a way that has hopefully made them for the better. Maybe it was introducing them to new people they would have never met without you who went on to become even better friends, maybe it was being the person who writes that great recommendation letter that helps get someone else a job, or maybe it’s just being a source of support when someone asks if you’ve got the time to talk or have a cup of coffee.
Judge yourself not on how many people know your name, or the names you can drop, but by the kind of person you are.
Looking back on my life, I was constantly looking to be a Sam Wainwright when I was younger. And yes, sometimes it still hits me and I wonder ‘did I head down the wrong path?’ ‘was there more to my destiny than this?’
And then I realize that being a George Bailey is pretty damn good. Because the quality of the life lived and the lives touched, will mean so much more in the end than any award on the wall, social media brag, or product sold.
Since the little guy was born, our movie viewing has taken a nosedive. The last movie we saw in an actual theatre was Toy Story 3.
To be honest, if it weren’t for Netflix and our own DVD collection, we probably wouldn’t see anything.
But, with Meg and the monkey off at camp this week and me working, it was sort of like being a quasi-bachelor for a bit. Meg told me while they were away I should re-enact Risky Business. (Although she apparently meant dancing in the living room and not so much the Rebecca DeMornay-prostitute part. Who knew?)
My evenings have been spent not so much in that Tom Cruise/Old Time Rock and Roll mode, but more in a ‘take a deep breath, crash on the couch and veg out watching movies’ mode.
So, a few of the movies that I just don’t feel comfortable watching with the little guy around, and I figure Meg probably doesn’t want to see anyway, have all been on the menu this week. From Captain America to the Avengers, I’ve been having a geek-out film fest with me and the cats.
And I have loved them all. I admit that for being the comic book nerd that I am, my knowledge of the Marvel Comics universe is limited. I was a DC guy growing up. Despite that, I have no qualms saying that Marvel is so far ahead of the game when it comes to their live-action movie franchises than DC is right now.
Take Captain America for instance. Set against the backdrop of a propaganda, ‘ra-ra-America! Keep em’ Flying!’ backdrop of World War II, I enjoyed every single moment. I suspended disbelief completely and just sat back and had a terrific trip back in time to fictional 1940s America. I love the explanation of the Captain America persona and outfit as a propaganda piece for the war effort, until alter ego Steve Rogers takes it upon himself to be a real hero. And with a villain as improbable as the Red Skull as the main antagonist (I mean, come on, his head is just that – a red skull), there’s a lot that could have gone wrong. With Hugo Weaving in the villainous role, though, it just fired on all cylinders for me. I should’ve popped up a big bowl of popcorn for it, as it would have been appropriate for this big, explosive, fun piece of comic nostalgia.
As I say, I don’t have a vast knowledge of Cap or many Marvel properties, but I do know how popular he was throughout the war years, with plenty of adventures against the Nazis and the Red Skull. So, I thought it was handled wonderfully in the film when, instead of one adventure/brawl with the skull and that’s it, we instead, through montages, actually see adventure upon adventure of Cap as he takes on the Skull at various points in the war. It never slowed the film down, yet still gave you that sense that Cap was fighting well through the bulk of the war years, just like he did in the comics. And, they even kept things true to the comic history by having him frozen in ice so that he could re-appear in the modern super hero world, just like when creators wanted to bring Captain America back decades after his original run ended in the war years.
I’m so glad I watched Cap before The Avengers, too, as it was the perfect setup for the superhero team extravaganza. I haven’t yet watched Thor, but figured I could get the gist of The Avengers without it. Director Joss Whedon (whose creations of Buffy and Angel, yes, I used to watch week to week when they were on the air) had a pretty monumental task in front of him, as trying to put all these characters (Iron Man, Captain America, Black Widow, Hulk, Thor and Hawkeye) into one movie just, by any account, does not make sense. There is no logical way for it to work, but Whedon makes it work, again just going for pure fun that lets you leave all cynicism at the door because you’re having such a great time watching it.
As I say, Chris Evans surprised me as a wonderfully charming and inspiring Captain America in both films, but another pleasant surprise was Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner/Hulk. Wow, what a performance. His suppressive, introverted, socially awkward performance really made you feel for him as a man hiding a monster and trying his best to keep it in check. The man took what could easily be a one-dimensional comic character and made him real and interesting. Bravo, Mr. Ruffalo.
I enjoyed them both so much that now I can’t wait for the sequels…although I’m sure I’ll be waiting a lot longer for them to turn around on Netflix. 🙂 But when they do, I’ll be ready with a big bowl of popcorn and dorky superhero delight.