I watched a movie from 1938 the other day called You Can’t Take it with You, directed by Frank Capra and starring James Stewart (drool). It’s a Wonderful Life is one of my favourite movies so seeing these names together was enough incentive for me to give it a shot, and while it is nothing like It’s a Wonderful Life, its contagious spirit stuck with me and gave me something I very much needed to hear. If you haven’t seen it, the basic plot involves the colliding of two families, the strait-laced well-to-do Kirbys and the free-spirited eccentric Sycamores. The Kirbys are a family of bankers, very high up in the financial world and almost single-mindedly bent on material success. The Sycamores tend to accumulate family members by welcoming in strangers off the street, and spend their time making fireworks, musical toys, as well as writing plays, learning ballet and playing the xylophone – all just because they feel like it. Somehow they get by. At its heart, the movie’s message is fairly simple: being eternally focused on material gain won’t make you very happy or win you many friends. Stop postponing your happiness until you have “enough”, look around you and enjoy.
Man, did I need this. I’ve been worried lately about (among other things) money, as so many of us are. I’m not working right now and even though I’m fine, I can take care of my needs for the foreseeable future, I’m constantly stressing about how and when I’m going to get a job because circumstances are so confusing for me right now. I’m worried how I’m going to have enough money in three or four months, approaching money and job hunting from a place of scarcity and fear. It’s also a reminder of how much our society measures worth by productivity. If you’re not working, what good are you doing? At least where I live, I get the message all the time that my presence alone is NOT enough. And it ain’t helping anyone. I’ve been telling this story in my head that I don’t have enough, that it’s going to be hard for me to find a job, if I ever figure out where I’m going to live for the next few months.
It makes me think of my semester abroad, when I had little in savings and more in student loans. I rarely concerned myself with money then. I was used to living on less so I could get a lot further with my means. I was also used to going the length of a school year with very little income so being out of work didn’t worry me either. I just sort of assumed things would work out. Which they always did. A bursary I’d forgotten I’d applied for would come back, I’d be forgiven some of my loan, my meagre cheque from my part time job would arrive just in time. I had such few bills that it was always easy to keep track of. I miss the simplicity of those days.
I knew what I wanted and ways would open up to help me get there. I worked hard on my degree, I found time to write, I fulfilled my dream to go to Italy. Now I’m not really sure what I want, so I feel trapped and stuck. And I’m not spending any time asking myself what I want, because I’m too stressed about how I’m going to make ends meet in four months, what people are going to think of me if I don’t have a job or if I just stay at home for a bit instead of traveling the world, how I’m failing at my spiritual practice by having such a hard time surrendering.
But the movie relaxed me so much. It reminded me that judging the success of a day by how much I managed to put into my bank account is only one way to think of achievement, sure it’s necessary, but it’s not the measure of who I am. How about the fact that I made my little brother laugh this morning? Or how I helped my other brother with his homework? Or that I cleaned out the fireplace for my mum to surprise her? Or I was the only one to ask my dad how his week was? Or I wrote two poems? Does none of that count? Am I a lazy useless person if I’m not making money?
No, no I’m not. This is temporary, as all things are, and I trust that there is a plan and something beyond this for me. I trust that whatever I am meant to do will reveal itself. I have to keep breathing and practice releasing money from this anxious grip. I don’t want to be like the Kirbys, I want to be like the Sycamores. I want to nurture friendships and make time for the things I really enjoy, I want to live in a community where we support each other, no matter what. I want to feel happy and free, to live with my hands wide open to what comes my way. And once I let go of this anxiety, my hands will be free – palms upwards to the sky – saying “Show me what you’ve got. I know you’ve got my back.”