In the holiday classic, “It’s A Wonderful Life,” George Bailey loses it all. His small building and loan company appears bankrupt due to Uncle Billy’s foolish misplacement of their funds. Believing he had nothing to live for except ruin and disgrace, George jumps off a bridge in desperation. He is rescued by Clarence, an odd, elderly angel still trying to get his wings. As they are both drying out from the cold water below the bridge, George tries to understand what is happening:
George: Look, who are you?
Clarence: I told you, George. I'm your guardian angel.
George: Yeah, yeah, I know. You told me that. What else are you? What...are you a hypnotist?
Clarence: No, of course not.
George: Well, then, why am I seeing all these strange things?
Clarence: Don't you understand, George? It's because you were not born.
George: Then if I wasn't born, who am I?
Clarence: You're nobody. You have no identity.
George: What do you mean, no identity? My name's George Bailey.
Clarence: There is no George Bailey. You have no papers, no cards, no driver's license, no 4-F card, no insurance policy...They're not there, either.
Clarence: Zuzu's petals. You've been given a great gift, George. A chance to see what the world would be like without you.
We all touch more lives than we imagine, often in profoundly significant ways. In our worst times, when the threads holding us together seem to be unraveling; when we are facing some strange or maybe just an ongoing difficulty; when we feel we have failed or finally botched whatever good we might have done; we still matter to certain people, perhaps to many we are not even aware of.
A colleague, mourning the keyed up agitated pace of the holiday season, said to me the other day, “Everyone seems on edge.” I agreed.
Our consumption obsession often gets the best of us as a society this time of year. Why do we spend so much time and money on mostly needless gifts, when the people we love really just need us, not gift cards and perfume, sweaters and workout clothes?
I was pulling out of a parking spot this past weekend, looking behind me and slowing making sure it was clear. Suddenly a woman in a black Mercedes whipped around the lane behind me and laid on her horn a few feet from my car. I was in her way. My backing out kept her from speeding to wherever she was going. I gave her a menacing look as I finished backing out. I thought, what is wrong with people? What is wrong with me? Why are we so easily provoked, so quick to get angry at others over nothing? Is that how we want to be remembered? Bitter, always steamed at people, enraged about things that don’t matter?
Like you, I see every day on the news, the horror going on in Aleppo, Syria. The city is destroyed. Thousands have been killed and hundreds of others are dying every day. Valiant efforts are being made to get people out, but the process is slow and deadly. And I wonder what Christmas is like for all of them. I can tell you, it’s not about blinking lights and stacks of gifts in wrapping paper.
When it all boils down to the meaning of our being here, all that matters are the people we love and care about. And the ones who love and care about us. What are we living for to be remembered for?
Some lines from William Blake mentor me: “And we are put on earth a little space / That we may learn to carry the beams of love.”
It seems difficult to love in these times. But it is always our human calling. And if we accept it, then George Bailey’s gift will serve us well, to know our being here meant something to be remembered.
© 2016 Timothy Moody