I feel it’s because I’m not American that I didn’t actually watch ‘It’s a Wonderful LIfe’ until I was in my 20s. I’d heard it being referenced in so many films and TV shows. It’s always in the top ten list of greatest films ever. It’s a film that always appears to be on American TV at Christmas time – it’s a tradition that’s now coming over here too. I suppose, in Britain we have ‘A Christmas Carol’ – but that’s more of a cautionary tale – mend your ways and make a change. But ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ is about something more. What would the world be like if you weren’t there? How would people’s lives have been different if you weren’t there?
It’s amazing isn’t it? The number of lives that you actually touch? Sometimes consciously, sometimes without you even knowing it.
Those of you who read my blog regularly will know that my father passed away when I was 11, and one of the things that I still do is imagine what life would have been like had he still lived. 29 years later, people I barely know, if they see me in the street, or talk to my mum, still say the most lovely things about him, even though he’s been gone for so long.
It was bedtime for my daughters a few weeks ago, and I was tucking them into bed. Somehow, my eldest (who had just turned 6), and I had got on to the topic of my father. “Where is he?” she asked. “I know he’s died, but where is he?’ It wasn’t a subject that I really knew how to talk about without upsetting her…so I thought carefully before I replied. The simplest thing that I could say to her was that – he died, but I believe that he never went away. Because people that you love, and who love you back, they never go away, they always stay close to you, to look after you, they are always here with you, in your heart.
I’m glad that I said that, because she seemed to accept that explanation quite happily, slept peacefully, and hasn’t worried about it since.
One of my failings as a person, is being to keep in touch with people who I used to know. Because of how busy and all consuming life is at every point, it’s so difficult to keep in touch with people that I used to know. At each point of my life, I was blessed that there were always a handful of people who were just there for me at the time. But circumstances would change, i would move on, and then I’d be so involved with trying to adjust to the present – that even when I wanted to reconnect – I just couldn’t find the time. And this is a pattern that has just continued.
‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ got me thinking again though – how often do we reflect upon the effect that we have, or have had upon someone’s life? Often a comment made in passing, either out of kindness or in anger, or sometimes intended to insult – can be the driving force for someone else – and the person who said it, may not even be aware of the impact that they had on someone.
I recently watched an interview with a Bollywood movie actress, she was talking to the chat show host, who also happens to be a well known film director. He was praising her acting skills and the success that she had achieve. She nodded graciously, accepted the compliments and then she completely blew him away by revealing that when she was a newcomer, he and a few other people on the very same chat show a few years earlier had actually made fun of her. The comments were meant to be light hearted and fun, but they had cut her deeply. Those words inspired her to work harder so that one day she was in a position to confront him about what they had said, and that was the only reason that she agreed to appear on that show, to tell him that his negative words still inspire her to work harder. He was astounded and uncomfortable. I was astonished and proud of her bravery. But in the back of my mind, I also wondered – if, in reality, he hadn’t said those mean things about her – would she have been as driven to achieve the success that she has now? What if he had never existed?
I know that’s hard to assess the impact that we have had on others because often, the things that stick with others, are the things that we would probably have viewed as inconsequential. A passing comment; a comment made in jest….
Perhaps though, sometimes, it’s worth looking back and thinking about who helped us in the past, who changed our life and made us feel better when the chips were down, and sending good thoughts their way? And then try to pay it forward…try to help someone else, in the way that people have helped you..
It feels to me that the world is a tough place to be in right now – the only way that we can make things better, is by working with one another, and helping each other out. Trying to actively be kind to others. Trying to actively notice something positive that someone does day in, day out. Valuing what others do and letting them know. Because that one kind word – could make all the difference to someone else.
And that way, the world is a better place, and people’s tough lives are made that much better – because of you….