By the Grace of God Redux

DSCF0602At Christmastime, I watched It’s a Wonderful Life because that’s what one does when one has the flu in December. Holidays are meaningless to me, but the conceit in the movie intrigues me. As I was feeling sorry for myself, I couldn’t imagine that the world would be tangibly different without me in it, as it is for George Bailey.

I haven’t saved my brother’s life. I don’t even have a brother, and I greatly annoy the one sister I do have. I’m a blight on the landscape; I haven’t kept my town from going to pot; my career as a writer hasn’t touched lives in the way Bailey’s career as a banker does in the film. My flu-hazy brain decided that my worth would be more difficult for a heaven-sent guest to evaluate. I wouldn’t be such an easy case to crack as George Bailey. As I already said, I was feeling sorry for myself, down in the dumps at Christmastime. Go figure.

Of course, that’s nonsense. Better writers and philosophers than I am have waxed poetic about no man being an island. As much as I’d like to believe I am, it isn’t true in any sense of the word true. If things had gone differently, the world would be a different place in very tangible ways. Some people liken this concept to the butterfly effect. The smallest acts from the most powerless creatures create a wavelike effect on the world around them. To house the idea in a cliche, the smallest pebble thrown in a still body of water ripples in greater and wider circles around the tiny spot where it broke and disturbed the surface of the water. Or maybe the other cliche I could use is this one: the smallest amount of salt upsets the PH balance of the sea.

On this blog, I’ve written and posted and re-posted a little piece about how I came to be. I will quickly sum it up: It was the year of Roe v Wade. My parents were poor and used the services at the local health clinic. Because they now could, the workers at the clinic recommended that my parents abort me. Thankfully, my parents didn’t heed the advice and, instead, brought this unhealthy, scrawny, premature baby into the world. I cried and cried, if anybody could have doubted my existence in the world.

At times I’ve wondered if my purpose in this world is to upset people, since I’ve been doing it consciously and unconsciously as long as I can remember. But putting that aside, the obvious tangibles that would not exist without me are numerous and varied. If the last memory of me were to be sucked into the ether, my husband wouldn’t have me to make him happy or crazy. My children wouldn’t exist. Their future children wouldn’t have the possibility of existing. The house we live in wouldn’t exist. The story behind the house–that would vanish, too. Our loyal dog, which we rescued from the shelter, might have been put down if I wasn’t there to receive the message from her sad eyes. Our cat–well, she would probably be fine, faring for herself. But she wouldn’t be the same.

Those are the obvious answers. Apart from the obvious, I couldn’t possibly begin to count the numerous lives I’ve brushed against, the people whose souls I’ve bonded with, the people I’ve loved, the people my family has helped in one way or another. By the grace of God I was given this life. That’s what the painting says–the one above, painted of me and my mom, when my dad was a very young painter (about 20?). He inscribed it on the corner near his name: By the grace of God, A.L. Miler. How could I ever forget, as this painting is the first image I see on waking?

It’s a wonderful life. It is. And it’s a conceit that many of us need to think about when we question our purpose–our razón de ser. I would hazard a guess that we also need to dwell more on our day-to-day interactions that create these ripples, that change the character of the world around us.



  1. I have had more George Bailey-at-the-bridge moments this past year than I can easily count. The thing that keeps me from jumping is not the thought of what I may have invisibly done to help others, but what I may still have the chance to do in the future, if only I keep on living…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *