I have been thinking lately about George Bailey.
‘Tis the season to get all verklempt as Bedford Falls pours into George’s living room and empties its pockets to save his skin. The most casual holiday-time channel surfer is susceptible—we can’t look away from the strange math, how his band of buddies render George Bailey the richest man in town.
No man is a failure who has friends.
Just like that, he’s in the black. Still, I wonder about ol’ George. I mean, I get that he’s a fictional character, but bear with me. His compadres clearly come through in his darkest hour, but on an ordinary Tuesday evening, say, does George shoot pool with Bert and Ernie? Do he and Mary belong to a bridge club? A Sunday school class? And, my most burning question: Do they host dinner parties?
Before Clarence comes along, who, pray tell, is George’s confidant? (It wouldn’t do for it to be Uncle Billy, bless his soul.) Who is George’s go-to guy for a quick nip at Martini’s?
Does George Bailey’s circle of friends run as deep as it does wide?
Fast forward to today, where Pinterest-worthy signs—upcycled from a wood palette!—hang above urban farmhouse sinks. Gather.
Buzzwords du jour: community, connection, and, in churchy circles, accountability. Put “authentic” in front of any of these—now you’re cooking with twenty-first century grease. (Or ghee, if you prefer.)
But I would like to, respectfully, call bullshit. Gather. Is this a mantra—a motto—or a scolding?
And: Let’s do life together—if I had a Bitcoin for every time I hear that one.
We are, for the most part, doing life very much alone.
Another Bitcoin—I don’t need any more friends; I don’t have time for the friends I already have. No one prints this on a palette, a pillow, or a nifty burlap bag with a bird on it.
I blame my to-do list, a monster of my own making that prohibits me from setting people-plans. Or, if I do, my yes is not my yes. It’s a maybe, like maybe I’ll encounter an unprecedented black hole in my busyness—the kid writes her own book report or the dog drives itself to the groomer or the meeting runs short. Thanks be to my 6S, it is deliciously easy to let you down: STS GOT TO BAIL. I don’t even have to listen to the note of disappointment in your voice.
NP, you text back. Subtext: WTF?
It is exhausting, the intentionality that goes into gather. George Bailey, he could do a stop-and-chat with Bert patrolling the corner or Ernie when his cab was empty. George had it all over us. We have to enter dates into our devices, get in our cars, move mountains.
Plus, we get confused. Blurry are the lines between intimacy and its less intense bedfellow, companionship. We are limitless, and so are our relationships! It’s all or nothing. Mostly nothing.
No wonder we’ve downgraded conviviality to the icing on the cake. We forget: It is the cake.
But many of us are in survival mode, best done solitarily, right? The world is too much with us, so we shelter in place.
Netflix, have I loved.
Snow-flocked Hallmark movies are infinitely more relaxing than the actual holidays, which make a big mess. His side of the family, hers—never, ever both at the same time! Just once, we’d love to skip the drama and drink eggnog on a beach in Bermuda. A sociability-sabbatical sounds about right.
As for entertaining, we’d rather be forced into an impromptu public speaking stint, thank you. A sink-full of dirty dishes—the good ones—after a long night of merry-making is not the stuff of Instagram. Yet I submit: There is honor in midnight’s grimy pile of plates, the aftermath of an evening well-spent. Madeleine L’Engle wrote, “There is nothing that makes me happier than sitting around the dinner table and talking until the candles are burned down.”
The woman did some dishes in her time.
My best self knows to fling open the doors. My best self, however, cannot be relied upon. I plump the couch pillows and settle in for a long winter’s nap. I am an introvert, after all.
Until I wake up one day and wonder, where did everybody go? L’Engle says, ideally, she wrote in the mornings and then broke solitude over bread with a friend at lunchtime. I shut my laptop. Enough with alone, already; I want my people. Via text, I send out a summons. A coffee date, no big deal. Before I hit send, I muster the nerve—or is it audacity—to type: And may I say this gently? Perhaps don’t say yes unless you’re certain… The funk I’m in requires friendly faces. In other words, I love ya, but don’t flake last minute, sistahs.
Or, maybe gingerbread lattes are a big deal, if we’re sipping them face-to-face. The coffee shop is holy ground. I have learned to rearrange haircuts and carpet cleanings for less.
And so my dear ones show—early. We caffeinate, then tiptoe into the taproom next door. White pine and twinkly lights are strung on the mirror behind the bar. We take joy.
Sometimes wearing your big girl pants means telling what you want. So the pooch needs her nails clipped. The tasks will always be with us. Let us eat cake!
I have not developed a taste for Duncan Hines. I am suspicious of instant community, connection, accountability. (I am talking to you, small groups.) Have you read the list of ingredients for a basic vanilla mix? Nothing rings authentic about mono- and diglycerides. I’ll take mine from scratch, please, with multiple layers. Time, broken eggs, more time, flour on the floor.
And seconds, always seconds.
I am not knocking vanilla. Vanilla can be exquisite in its simplicity. Not every pastry has to boast marzipan, chocolate curls, a side of whipped cream. Here’s to vanilla—the Bert and Ernie types who are part of the blessed scaffolding of our days—and to the BFFs who heed the call to coffee.
I don’t know who George Bailey grabs a beer with. Maybe on his way home from the Building and Loan, he steps into Martini’s, where everybody knows your name. Maybe that is enough.