It’s that time of year when the word ‘new’ keeps popping up everywhere. New resolution, new plans, new hopes, new determination to try yet again at improving our lives/lot/health. Much as I love a new start and a chance to re-evaluate where we are in life and how we’re doing, this year, I want to suggest something a bit different.
I’m sure nearly all of you are familiar with the beautiful film A Wonderful Life? That classic black and white film from 1946, about a man, George Bailey, who when facing bankruptcy is stopped from committing suicide by a grey haired angel called Clarence (how can anyone not like a film that has an angel with a name like that?!). George had spent much of his adult life putting off his dreams of travel, study and furthering his career by putting the needs of others first and this latest set back had pushed him, literally, to the edge.
In his effort to change George’s mind, Clarence shows George what the town would have looked like if George had not continued being the reliable loving father, the house builder for ordinary people, the man who stood up to the corrupt banker, or the guy who saved his brother from drowning. It was a desolate, desperately sad town.
George’s sometimes small, sometimes big courageous deeds had knock-on effects that he had no comprehension of. His love for his family and pursuit of justice for the less fortunate had bigger effects than he’d realised.
I know this film can easily be dismissed as a sentimental, unrealistic tear-jerker. But think again. It was George’s extraordinary ordinariness that made life good, even wonderful, at times.
He thought his life was a failure: his dreams unrealised, his life a mess. And yet, with a different pair of eyes and the chance for his community to tell him what they thought of him, it was a different story.
I know it is highly unlikely that any of us will have angels turning up on New Year’s Eve. Well, maybe you will, angels have been known to appear to some (the pastor of our church had an angel appear to them on top of their piano. No, really! I don’t think he was called Clarence though…I digress!) But maybe we need to ponder what we are currently doing that is good or necessary that we need to continue doing? To not necessarily be considering what new thing do we need to be doing. It might be something that is tough right now (caring for a child with special needs), or downright dull and boring (mothering toddlers comes to mind…) but it is important for the now, the medium-term or even the long-term.
Parents are great examples of this (at least, many of them, not all sadly…). My parents didn’t do anything extraordinary in the public’s eyes, but they did privately. My father didn’t take a risky career so he could ensure we kept on an even keel financially; I know that’s not always the right decision for everyone, but I think it was for him. My mum stuck to my father when things were extremely tough after he’d had a head injury, lost their daughter to a car crash and then after a couple of years, he hit the bottle. He gave it up willingly after only 18 months which was quite a miracle in itself but it still wasn’t easy even when he was sober. If she’d left him, he would have ended up a sad old man on the street. Unimaginably awful.
I’m sure there’ll be new things or habits that you do need to introduce to your life. I for one know how much I need to bring in that age-old boring but necessary practice called ‘self-control’ over the enjoyment of the increasingly regular glass of wine and consumption of sweet things 🙂
But I’m also certain that there’s many things you are doing and that you are being that bring life and joy to those around you and that are important to keep on doing.
And if someone comes to mind who has been a ‘life saver’ to you, maybe take the time to thank them for it, to be their Clarence. You never know, it might be just the encouragement they need.
PS When I ran this past my mum to check she was ok with me posting this, she said the following: “Do you know what helped me to hang in there? It was Dad who introduced me to the Christian faith – and without my faith and that of supportive family, friends, parish priest, fellow parishioners, I don’t know how I would have survived.”
I’d also like to point out that I’m not implying in this post that it’s never right for married couples to split. My father was never violent. If you are in a situation where your partner is being violent or abusive it is important to seek help from the police or local charities like a Women’s Refuge or the Citizens Advice Bureau.