Everytime a bell rings… an angel gets his wings… Clarence,” Angel Second Class”
I’ve just had my yearly viewing of It’s a Wonderful Life starring Jimmy Stewart. Sigh! What a gorgeous movie it is. For those of you who haven’t seen it (and where have you been) it’s the story of George Bailey played by Stewart, who has had disappointment after disappointment. An all round good guy, who’s had to put his dreams on the back burner all his life for the good of other people. He’s done it, he’s happy enough but he’s always longed to travel and study and never got the chance. After a huge mistake made by his uncle at the building and loans company, he loses the plot and wants to kill himself. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Enter Clarence.. a rather old, awkward bumbling angel, 2nd class, who has yet to earn his wings. Clarence is assigned by God to help George get through the night and make him see how worthwhile his life really is. He comes down to earth and starts immediately in helping George fight his demons. When George wishes he was never born, thinking everyone would be better off without him, Clarence shows him exactly how life would be if he hadn’t been.
The town he grew up in and lives becomes a seedy, lowlife town, run by a rich tyrant Mr Potter. It is that way because George wasn’t around to stand up to Potter and get things implemented in the town. People are held in poverty as he wasn’t there to help them. His wife is a lonely spinster because he wasn’t there to love her. People die because he wasn’t there to save them. He starts to realise how much of an impact his life has had on others. Of course it has a feel good ending.. most old Hollywood movies do but it is a very poignant story. It always makes me stop and think how my life may have impacted others without me even realising it.
It reminded me of a book I read a while ago called, The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom. This is one person’s interpretation of what may happen when we die.. In the book, Eddie, the main character, dies and goes to heaven where he is met by 5 people whose lives he impacted. He doesn’t even know some of them, but for some reason, their lives were intertwined in some particular way and it had a huge impact on their lives.
So this really got me thinking. How often do we make an impact on another person’s life, known to us or strangers, without even realising it. How many people have you made a difference to, hopefully a positive one, without even knowing it. How many people have had an impact on you without knowing how much their brief encounter with you changed your life.
It’s a story often told in the classics. In Les Miserables, Jean Val Jean encounters one brief moment of kindness from a Bishop and comes to the realisation that he must become a better man, so changes his life from that moment on. So many stories have this recurring theme. Why? Because it’s reality. The effect from one small encounter can have far reaching repercussions, whether good or bad. I read a blog the other day, which highlighted this exactly and it stuck with me. You can click here to read it. It’s called.. The touch that changed my life.
I was in a chat room once and was discussing my battles with depression and loss. It was an open discussion within the room and we were all talking about how we deal with things. Of course some people were saying the old “oh just snap out of it” and I was trying to explain how that was sometimes impossible. It was a pretty standard type conversation I thought. A few days later, a lady private messaged me in the chat room and said, “i just wanted to tell you that you saved my life”. Hello, I thought, we’ve got a nutter here.. or somebody about to spam me. She continued on to tell me that her brother had recently passed away, shortly after her parents. She had reached the end of her tether and couldn’t cope with the pain anymore and had decided to take her life. She came into chat the night of the discussion, planning on one last conversation with a few friends she had made in there, then was going to end her life. After watching the conversation for a while, she said something inside her just clicked.. She decided that if I could go on after what I’d been through, so could she.. She realised she had plenty to offer the world so made an appointment next day with a psychiatrist and was moving forward. She just came back to tell me. I still have no idea who this woman was.. or if she was genuine.. but I think she was. I felt very humbled.
We don’t always get to know the effect we have had on another’s life.. nor do we always take the time to let people know the ways in which they have influenced us, that is, if we even recognise it ourselves. I was thinking about this last night, trying to think about the people who influenced me and whether or not they realised it. Of course we know that friends have a huge impact on our lives and they probably realise that too. We probably even take the time to tell them.. But what about others?
I took time to really think about the people who have had a huge impact in my life and never knew it. As you may know, I have rediscovered my love of writing. For that I thank the English teachers I had who encouraged me in my formative years. Mr Hageman who first taught me to dissect a book.. to not just read and enjoy it.. but to delve deeper into the characters and find their motives for the things they did. I’d always loved reading but he taught me to examine every character and find what made them tick, what their underlying intentions were and how they dealt with life. We may think we do that when we read a book, but more often than not, we take characters at face value and miss their soul. He taught me to read between the lines. He taught me how to bring a book to life. Until the day I die, I will hear him reading “Of Mice & Men to us and his voice saying.. “George, I want to pet the rabbits”.
Mrs Prince, who once told me, “You’re smarter than you realise… don’t waste it”… I was a kid who had a massive chip on her shoulder and often dumbed myself down because it was easier than people having high expectations of me and watching me fail. (I hate failing).. so to clown around was easier than losing face. She touched a part of my soul that questioned whether she may have been right. I think I tried a little bit harder from that day on to prove her right.
Mrs Russell, who voiced her disappointment in me for not doing an assignment. Sounds negative doesn’t it? But 25% of our marks that term were based on Lord of the Rings. I chose not to read it and not to complete anything on it as I just didn’t like the idea of the books. I still got 72% that term. She told me how I could achieve anything I wanted to but let myself down. She said I could have asked anyone what the books were about, without having read them, and still written a book report on them and got high marks, such was my ability to write. Up until then, while I knew I liked to write.. I didn’t realise that people wanted to read what I wrote. She inspired me to push myself in situations where although I had no interest, it would benefit me to do what I needed to do.
When i hit motherhood, I was not coping well emotionally with being a parent, so went back to TAFE to finish my high school certificate in English. I thought it would start to get my brain working again. It did, in a big way. The teacher in that class, Lesley Taylor, taught me structure in writing. She had written a book and told me I could easily do the same. She then proceeded to give me the skills necessary to do just that. She taught me that every story has a beginning, a middle and an end and if you have that formula, you can write. Sounds basic, I know, but up until that time, I was a very incoherent writer who got sidetracked easily. ( I still do occasionally) I will be forever grateful to her for teaching me the formula, because, regardless of how much our words come from the soul, they have a higher impact if they are structured in a way that our readers brains can understand. I used to hand in written piece after piece and she would always find a way in which I could improve it. She was still very encouraging but would make me look at my work through fresh eyes, forcing myself not to become complacent and say near enough is good enough.
I had a penfriend in Hong Kong when I was a lot younger. If you’ve read my blogs before, you may have heard me mention my penfriends. The idea of the penpal scheme in schools was to, not just gain an understanding of another culture, but it meant friends from non English speaking countries could hone their English skills. Patrick lived in Kowloon. In one of his first letters to me, he wrote an old Chinese proverb. I can’t remember the exact wording but the gist of it was.. a friend is one who holds a mirror up to my faults so I can fix them and become a better person. Like most Leo’s I hate criticism, constructive or destructive and always took it personally. That one proverb he sent me taught me to reevaluate the way I interacted with other people. How can a person change a negative characteristic if they aren’t aware of it. It made me be more honest in my dealings with people. If someone asked me, did I do that right, I would let them know, gently if possible, that there may be a better way to do something.. I also learned that when someone did the same thing to me, it wasn’t because they wanted to offend me, but probably wanted me to be the best person I could be. Patrick’s proverb changed my perception.
Try to think how you’ve impacted on other people.. and the people who have made you strive to be better. Has there been a time in your life where someone has affected you in such a way, you’ve changed major facets of your life? Did you tell them the impact they had on you? People come and go in our lives for all sorts of reasons.. some for a long time, some, but for a brief moment… but I don’t believe any of it is accidental. Life seems to put people in our path to teach us lessons… to pick us up when we fall…. to make us question our motives and to help us be better people. Next time someone does or says something that makes you change the slightest perception….. say thank you. If you know someone who has had a profound effect on your life… write them a note if you can… let them know.. they may need to hear it.
Happy reflecting.. Livvy 🙂