One of my favorite Christmas traditions every year (and possibly one of yours too!) is curling up on the couch with family and watching It’s a Wonderful Life. Jimmy Stewart in pure 1946 black-and-white splendor. At the end of the movie when the credits are rolling, tears are being wiped away from every eye in the room, I always wonder what it would be like to have George Bailey’s wish…to see what the world would be like without me. What difference has my simple, small life really made?
George Bailey: [George hears a train whistle] There she blows. You know what the three most exciting sounds in the world are?
Uncle Billy: Uh huh. Breakfast is served; lunch is served; dinner…
George Bailey: No no no no. Anchor chains, plane motors and train whistles.
No doubt about it, It’s a Wonderful Life is a Christmas classic, a beloved movie in many, many homes. And maybe that’s because we all have a bit of George Bailey in us. We all want to do BIG things. We want to explore the world, make our mark, leave it for the better. We want to be good at something, known for something, have people remember our names after we have gone. And so often we feel like the whistle blows, the plane starts up it’s motor, the anchor is hoisted, and we’re left watching from the station. But I wonder if we realize, just as George Bailey had the opportunity to find out, no matter how insignificant, how small and simple our lives feel at times, we are making differences. Our lives are intertwined into so many others. We make ripples, and even the smallest ones touch more than we could ever imagine.
Clarence: Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?
I wonder if we could all see, if only we could know what we have done. If only we knew…
If only Mrs. Chamberlain knew. An awkward tom-boy with a hideous bowl cut and no self-esteem was completely changed in her third-grade class. If only she knew how many elementary ed professors read about how every child deserves to have a teacher like her, who gives them a chance, believes in them, and loves them.
If only Regina, the owner and boss of the best family-owned burger joint around, knew. Those who have worked for her over the years would all agree she taught us far more than how to make a killer Ladybug shake or count back change. She taught us about being kind, giving people a chance, and serving others with a smile. Always. She taught us to truly care about others and think more of them than of ourselves.
Yeah, we lost almost every game. We weren’t the best in the league, but we loved soccer. We loved it because we had amazing coaches. Their pep talks when the score board read 5-0 might have seemed to fall on deaf ears, but their encouragement went far. To this day we are all changed because they taught us to love the game, to be a team, to have fun and be good sports…even if we could never seem to get the ball in the net.
If only friends from long ago knew. If only they could feel the way their simple messages, phone calls, letters, have made me feel on a bad day. If only they realized how much their friendship has meant to me over these many, many years.
If only the kind lady at the grocery store realized how far-reaching the effects of her simple gesture of allowing us to go ahead of her at the checkout counter meant. Not just to the hungry, crying baby and the exhausted mother, but countless others who I have shared her story with. I want to be her someday when I don’t have the anxious kids in tow.
If only…if only Mrs. M knew how scared my son was to start the first grade. How he didn’t like to read, how he despised writing. How he has blossomed and reads every night, writes stories on the bus, and talks about her at every meal. She is his hero. She is MY hero.
He’s only the custodian, but Mr. Mike creates ripples. The kids love him. The way he teases them in the lunch room making each one giggle with delight. He makes a difference. Every single day. They will remember that forever. If only he knew.
If only each one of us could know.
Each day, each moment, our small actions touch others. Sometimes in very big ways when we don’t even know it. We may never do really big, grand things. We may never have an audience of millions, have stadiums or buildings named after us, or have our photo on the cover of magazines or in books. We may never be the best. But life really is wonderful, and you and me, all of us, even in our small and simple ways, make a difference.
Clarence: You see, George, you’ve really had a wonderful life. Don’t you see what a mistake it would be to throw it away?