Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

This holiday season I watched again “It’s A Wonderful Life”, one of my all-time favorite films, from an entirely new perspective. I had just read an article revealing that lead actor Jimmy Stewart was at the time of the filming suffering from PTSD, a condition that many of our clients have endured after living through a car crash or other traumatic injury event.

I decided to pay close attention as I watched to see if I could detect any hint of what decorated war hero and bomber pilot Jimmy Stewart likely was going through at the time the cameras were filming. What I concluded startled me. As it never had before, at this viewing it became clear that not only was Jimmy Stewart suffering from PTSD, but quite likely all of 1947 America was also in a way dealing with it in just having survived the terrible trauma of a world war.

For those living in 1947 and seeing the film for the first time, quite likely the film was therapeutic and gave meaning to the suffering, great and small, that all had endured. For example, like George Bailey many likely had put their dreams on hold, if not to serve and fight themselves, to support and serve their neighbors and the larger national community as America fought for its existence.

As I watched George Bailey imagine a world where he did not exist, and come to grips with the fact that had he not been there to save his younger brother Harry from a childhood accident thereby making it possible for future fighter pilot Harry to live and save countless lives, I could not help but appreciate the sacrifices of every American who lived in the 1940s, as well as the sacrifices of those Americans who lived at the time of our nation’s founding.

I also tried to focus as I watched this time on everybody BUT George Bailey. In doing this, one is better able to see the impact that George Bailey has on every other person in Bedford Falls. For example, when George and Mary devote their honeymoon money to jumping in and saving their fellow citizens who are distressed by the prospect of a bank run, there is a genuine and long lived consequence flowing from their efforts to help, as we later see the people who the Baileys rescued in their time of fear and need, come to the rescue of the Bailey family in its time of need.

But, what happened to Bedford Falls when the infectious selflessness and generosity of George Bailey was removed from the community?  We saw a nightmarish and unhealthy community filled with nightclubs and bars created to help an enslaved and self-indulgent people somehow feel good about themselves.

So why am I writing this? Well, just simply to encourage everyone to watch the film from this new perspective. It is indeed possible to see in Stewart’s acting the hints of raw emotion that often is experienced as a result of intense and sometimes inescapable emotional trauma. If you’ve never watched it, then make time to watch it this year, and watch it every year into the future. Try to focus on something different each time you view it.

Even today it can very much help our nation as it experiences such minor traumatic events as going through a rough-and-tumble political season. The question is eternally the same. Does a community come together and thrive by following the self-centered path of old Mr. Potter? Or, do we follow the path of healing that comes when we are a community bent on building up our neighbors and treating them as we would want to be treated, and sometimes experiencing the joy of relying on them in our own times of need?

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