It’s A Wonderful Life. Most of us know the story: George Baily lives a carefree life built around a dream to travel the world. Then reality sticks its nose into things, causes life to slide sideways, knocking the wheels off of Mr. Baily’s travel plans. It’s when George utters those six words that the story really begins.
“I wish I’d never been born.”
Clarence the angel is sent from on high to give our protagonist a glimpse at a world in which he’d never existed. George begins to see that without him, certain important factors could not have occurred without his presence; lives of others would have turned out quite differently—sometimes horrifyingly so. It’s a warmhearted story, though cautionary. One designed to make viewers give pause, to find reasons to be thankful for what they have rather than find disappointment in what they’ve missed. A simple story, really. But is this rooted in reality?
Have you ever considered your own life, what the world might be like had you not been born into it? Most certainly your presence has impacted the courses other lives have taken—and you may not even realize it.
Every time we interact with the world around us—no matter how short the time—we’ve had some sort of influence. There are the obvious situations: “If Tommy hadn’t been there to yank that kid from the burning car…” or “Thankfully Jenny stopped to talk to me at the grocery store. If she’d have left a few minutes sooner, she’d have run right into that tornado…” and even “My son the doctor just discovered a cure for…” Interesting, sure, but those could be chalked up to right place, right time. In other words, those situations could have had similar outcomes regardless if Tommy or the doctor had or hadn’t existed, and Jenny, she may have been tied up in traffic and missed certain catastrophe. Another person may have been nearby, able to rescue the boy from a burning car. And no telling how many doctors may have cracked the code on some dreaded disease if given time and resources.
I’m more interested in the seemingly insignificant situations we tend to overlook or dismiss as unimportant.
One May evening in 1990, I was getting ready to go out to my favorite rock and roll night club with a good friend. At the last minute, this friend was called into work. She couldn’t get out of it. I didn’t want to go to the club alone. Where’s the fun in that? So I decided to just spend the evening at home, watching television. But a phone call I received changed my plans, changed my entire life and future.
A small party, the little sister of one of my best friends explained. Would I be interested? If so, could I be persuaded to bring the beer? In those days, I never turned down an invite to a party.
I showed up, a pair of twelve packs in hand and, long story short, I’d caught the eye of the blonde who’d caught my eye. We’d never met before this night. Less than a year later, we were married. Nine months after that, our daughter came into this world. A son followed about sixteen months later.
Okay, so now we come to the fork in the road. My little brother is introduced to my wife’s best friend. A wedding is performed, a son is born, and a daughter quickly follows. So now, two marriages and four children are the direct result of a last minute change of plans one evening in May of 1990.
But there is another life-altering situation that took place right around that same May moment. I’d been working at a local K-Mart shortly after moving back to Michigan from a two year stay in Florida. A co-worker had just lost a roommate and asked if I’d be interested in moving in, maybe help him pay the rent.
We worked different shifts, so we hardly saw each other at home. But we shared the same days off. This guy didn’t have much of party sort of personality. He liked the idea of having girls around, though. Did I know of any girls we could invite over, maybe catch a movie?
A close friend—the older sister of the girl through whom I met my wife—arrived later that day, a friend of hers in tow. I didn’t make a connection that night, but my roommate sure did. He and the friend of the friend married a year or so later. They had one child last I heard. I lost touch with them over time and haven’t seen them in nearly twenty-five years, so I don’t know if they’re still together or if other children were born, but I do know that had I not lived with this co-worker for a brief two month period, he most likely would not have met his wife. Different circles, sure, but all it takes is for that one moment and that one person to make circles intersect.
My marriage ended in divorce—as did my little brother’s. Then we lost my brother in 2010. But the children remain. Some of these children now have children of their own; lives that would not exist but for a change of plans.
These are the small details we tend to overlook or fail to recognize. We don’t get to have a George Baily moment. Clarence the angel isn’t likely to come show us the importance of a single life. But it’s there, if only we take the time to search for it, to really appreciate how connected we all truly are in our tiny space in time.
It’s this appreciation that allows us to proclaim: “It’s a wonderful life!”