Did You Ever Have A George Bailey Moment?

Even though spring is blooming, I recently had a conversation with an It’s A Wonderful Life reference that I just had to share.

The owner of the company who installed our new roof (more on that in another post) was a great guy and he was very easy to talk to.  As such, after the job was completed, he came to our house to collect the final payment, and Mrs. Beagle, Bob (the roofer) and I talked about a few different things outside of the questions we had about the roof.

I can’t remember the specific context, but he mentioned that he lives a pretty quiet life in that he doesn’t smoke or drink.  He then paused, and said that this wasn’t always the case, that he is in fact a recovering alcoholic.  I asked how long he was in recovery and he said that it’s been 19 years.  I was very impressed and let him know as such, and he then told us something that made me really stop and think.

He told us about his ‘George Bailey’ moment.  I’m sure most know, but just in case, George Bailey is the main character of the Christmas themed movie It’s A Wonderful Life.  In the movie, things go wrong and he says out loud that he wishes he had never been born, and then gets to see his wish come true.  A guardian angel takes him to a world in which he’d never been born, and he gets to see how things changed for many of the people (his wife, friends, family) whose life wouldn’t have been touched had he not been born.

Bob’s story obviously wasn’t centered about what would have happened had he not been born, but instead about how things likely would have turned out had he not stopped drinking. He told that during his ‘really, really wild days’ (his words), he had a best friend who was there with him at every turn.  They drank together, partied together, got out of had together, got in a lot of trouble together, and lost control of themselves together.

At a certain point, Bob realized that he couldn’t do that.  He knew he was out of control so he quit drinking.

His friend didn’t.

As is often the case when substance abuse is the driver of a relationship, they drifted apart as Bob went down a path of sobriety and his friend didn’t.  I didn’t get into the details of the story (it was only a few minute conversation), but I got the sense that Bob really cared about his friend, and I would bet that he probably tried to pull his friend out of the path of destruction that Bob had avoided, but his friend didn’t.

Nineteen years later, and Bob knows that his friend is homeless.  He sweeps a parking lot at a bar/restaurant for a few hours a day and gets paid $10 for doing so.  He lives in a field behind a local KMart.  Bob said he saw him walking down the road a couple of years ago. He stopped and his former best friend barely recognized him.  He could not speak complete sentences.  He refused any help Bob tried to give him.

I heard this story and I said, “Wow, that must have been heartbreaking.”  You could tell by the look on his face before Bob even answered that it was.  But Bob pointed out that it also gave him an opportunity to see what his life would have become had he not made the decision to take control of his alcoholism.  Now, he’s got a family, a successful business, he’s a happy, upbeat, outgoing guy and I have to believe that as hard as it is to have seen his former buddy in the shape he was in, seeing that continues to reinforce his recovery, and gives him the strength to continue his recovery.

How many times have you had a George Bailey moment?  Maybe where you saw an ex and realized that breaking up was painful at the time but one of the best things that ever happened?  Or looked at something you didn’t buy and realized that as much as you wanted it at the time, it was better that you didn’t buy it?  Or have you had it work the other way around?

Readers, what’s your George Bailey moment?

15 thoughts on “Did You Ever Have A George Bailey Moment?”

  1. I’ve actually had a sort of George Baily moment in both directions with regards to our finances. I see our neighbors who have kids nearly the same age as my son who talk about having their house paid off by the time they go to college (in 5 years). Wow, would that be nice….we won’t even be close.

    On the other side, I see people who didn’t take control of their finances. I see them struggling on a weekly basis, getting further and further into debt. They haven’t reached that “out of control” point yet – but they’re ever so close.

  2. I enjoy the story, you never know where wisdom will come from. I have a couple of brothers that are into drugs and alcohol to the point of taking over their lives. Both have children they rarely get to see. I’m very grateful to have avoided those things and wish that they can turn it around. One is really trying, which is really great.

  3. What a story! I sucks that he saw his one time friend in such a horrible state and condition but no he knows and it reconfirms the wonderful choice he made to stop drinking. My moment was when I was complaining that I should have gone to UNC instead of moving to FL. When I look back I would have never met the woman that I married be where I am today and the girl I was dating now has a few kids and a horrible attitude. I could have been stuck with that instead of being where I am today.

  4. I have George Bailey moments almost daily. In my younger days I was much like Bob, though without an alcohol problem. When I met my wife it was motivation to turn things around. Often when I am with my wife I remember how things used to be and think about where I would be had I not changed. The answer is probably close to where Bob’s friend is in his life. I am very thankful that I made a decision to change, and thankful that I have a reminder every day!

  5. That is a great story. I don’t think it is often that clear what would have happened if we wouldn’t have changed at a certain time. I can’t really say that I have had a George Bailey moment.

  6. Motivation to change habits come from many different places, it may come from success or failure. I find that my friends, family and experiences materially influence me and my decisions. It helps that I managed to stay away from some of the negative things in life. It is also a good reason to surround yourself with good and successful people.

  7. Wow. I did have one of those moments about 2 1/2 years ago. I had been staying in relationship with someone making choices that I could not endure. Thank God for the moment that I realized that I could make a different choice regardless of what the other person chose. Making that change has brought great joy in my life. Thanks for sharing this story – very powerful.

  8. I had one after dating a woman for four years. I realized, looking into the future, that it wasn’t going to be a great long term relationship. EVERYONE thought we were going to get married, including her. It was the best decision I’d ever made.

  9. That is a great story! I hope Bob is not beating himself for not helping his friend more. I have not had any specific George Bailey moment, but after I met my husband my whole outlook with life has changed. His philosophy is we have been given a lot of positive things in life and it is a shame if we don’t use it to make a positive influence in other lives. That motivates me most of the time.

    • No, it sounded like he knew his limitations and knew from his own experiences that if the friend wasn’t interested in getting help, that there was little that could be done to improve the mans life.

  10. Interesting story!

    I tend to have regrets more than George Bailey moments. If I’d stayed in the marriage, my son would probably have grown into a happier man. If I’d stayed in the marriage, I wouldn’t be worrying about how to make ends meet on Social Security without drawing down all my savings before I die. If I hadn’t jumped to marry the lawyer I’d be emeritus from a tenured position by now. If I were a better daughter I’d have been at my mother’s side when she died and at my father’s when he died. If I wouldn’t plop down in front of the computer at 4 in the morning and sit here all day, my back wouldn’t hurt.

    You can’t undo life. You can’t know whether we’d all be speaking German if the dinosaur hadn’t crushed that blue butterfly all those millions of years ago. All you can do is live the best you can, within the limits of what you have.

  11. Wow, that’s a powerful story. Though I don’t think I’ve had a George Bailey moment, I do often have moments of “what-if”. What-if I had done this degree first instead of that, what-if I hadn’t done this back in high school or that back in college… Even the small decisions that we make can end up having profound impact on our lives.

  12. Yep, we sometimes get to view what our life would have been like if we don’t do a course correction ever now and then. My brother has been in and out of jail for over 15 years now. I have never been in jail an never intend to because I love my freedom, some don’t.

  13. I think these moments arise a lot at time of loss, if a loved one passes away you really stop to reflect on the future and the things that matter most, they shock you from the routine and provide perspective.

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