Christmas has come and gone.and it feels as though Christmas 2023 is a long off as we hunker down in the new year. Somehow though I find myself thinking of the classic movie It’s a Wonderful Life. Despite being irrevocably associated with holiday viewing, the film has a message that should resonate all through the year.
Of course we all know the story of George Bailey, a man who had dreams of traveling the world, leaving his small town behind and living a life of learning and adventure. Sadly he found himself having to accept the cloak of responsibility for his loved ones over and over again. He lost the opportunity to attend college when his father died and he was chosen to take over the struggling family business. A run on the Savings and Loan that he managed interrupted his plans for an exciting honeymoon. The births of children sidelined his dreams of making big changes in his life. Ultimately he is threatened with jail time and loss of his reputation and business after his uncle loses a large cash deposit.
All of his struggles come crashing down at once and he literally questions whether his life has even been worth living. That’s when Clarence, an angel, enters to show him what the world would like if he had never lived. He learns that even small things that he had done had a dramatic impact on the people of his town and even a ship filled with soldiers in World War II. Without him many lives would have been broken and sorrowful and even lost.
We sometimes don’t stop to think how much our actions affect the people around us. We underestimate the effect of a smile or a wave. We cannot imagine how important each of is in the grand scheme of things. Everything changes if any one of us never existed. Our reach may be small, but it is important to those around us. If we understand that, we are more inclined to be the best versions of ourselves. We strive to be kind, to observe when others are struggling, to give of ourselves rather than taking the air out of a room. From day to day the little things that we say and do have the most profound effect on the people we encounter. It would be nice if we each had an opportunity to actually witness our overall effect on the world around us so that we might either improve our presence or stay the course of how we live.
Many people create goals for themselves and very successfully achieve every one of them. Others, like George Bailey, have terrible things happen to them at the most inopportune times. They have to constantly adjust their visions and dreams to care for the people around them. They probably wonder if their sacrifices are even appreciated. If we don’t tell them how will they know how much they mean to us. They may even begin to feel like failures just as George Bailey did when life no longer seemed worth living.
I wish that I might reach out to every person who has impacted me in a wonderful way. Some of them did incredible things for me and I don’t think I ever fully let them know how much they meant to me. I got busy with life and only thought about what I might have said to them when it was too late. I experienced that when my Aunt Rosemary died and when I lost my dear friend Sharon. If only I had picked up the phone and called them or written a little note describing how important they were to me.
I often think of my Uncle Jack Ferguson who guided my family through the most difficult early days after my father had died. Without Uncle Jack we would have been little lost souls set adrift in a sea of troubles. With his folksy knowledge and always pleasant humor he found us a house in which to live and a car to get us around town. He set us right on our journey without a dad and he kept checking on us ever after. I know that I never told him how much I loved him or how thankful I was for all of his help. I took it for granted that he knew. I hope that is so.
My mother’s best friend Edith helped me when I was so confused about how to get medical help for my mother when she had her first terrible episode of mental illness. Not even the priest at our church was willing to give me guidance, but Edith stood by me and my mother with a love that gave me the courage I needed. I lost track of her over time and never thought to purposefully create an opportunity to describe how much she had meant to me. I am sorry for that because she literally guided me to find a strength within me that I did not know was there.
So many incredible people are responsible for the sum total of who I am today. They enlightened me, showed me how to be compassionate, modeled integrity for me. Sometimes I only knew them from afar but their influence was dramatic. I suppose that it so for all of us.
We encounter good people every single day of our lives who make a difference in how we feel about ourselves. Their existence is crucial in changing our world for the better. Missing even a single chance moment with them might have changed the trajectory of our lives. Think about who those people are. If they are still alive spend a few moments on each day of 2023 taking the time to tell them how important they are. We never know when that opportunity will be gone or when that person will believe that they have accomplished nothing. Give them the gift of gratitude. They need to hear what you have to say. Remind someone of how wonderful life has been because they entered your life.