Sunday’s Wisdom #422: Each Life Touches Every Life

“Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives.”
– Clarence, It’s a Wonderful Life

Clarence says this to George Bailey, a man who has done far more good in his life than he has ever realized.

As a boy, George wanted nothing more than to get out of the small town he was born in and do big things in big places. Those dreams fell by the wayside as he selflessly gave up almost everything he ever wanted for himself in order to help others, again and again and again. He thought that he achieved very little, when in reality he was a pillar of the community, slowly and steadily helping it improve. But in a moment where he was low with fear and despair, with an evil man’s words ringing through his ears, he began to believe it would be better if he were dead, or even if he had never been born. Thus, to save his life, his guardian angel gave him the chance to see what his home and loved ones would be like if he had never been there. The results horrify him, as he comes to remember the good he has done, and everything he still has, and will continue to have even if things look bad right now.

I recall the Ebeneezer Scrooge’s wake up call was to see how miserable he was, and how little he had ever done despite his financial success. By contrast, George’s wake up call is to see how good he is, how much he has really done despite not achieving any of the things he dreamed of.

It does us very badly to become prideful and rest on our laurels, but it does us much good, I think, to remember the good we’ve done. It helps us to remember that we are worth the air we breathe.

I struggle with that a bit on occasion, and I know I’m not the only one. We all need a reminder every so often of how precious and valuable we are, and that our value doesn’t depend on how much money we have. It depends on what good we do for the people around us. No man is an island, after all, and very small ripples can spread surprisingly far through the ocean of humanity. A good word, a selfless act of kindness, a life devoted to serving others instead of pursuing our own selfish wants, one day at a time… a home built warm and safe for a family, children fed and nurtured in love, a mistake corrected before anyone is hurt, a grudge forgiven, a life saved… these are worthy accomplishments, and each one of them can send ripples out to do more good in the world.

The world is changed and the course of history is altered by each and every one us doing our best, together.

Last week, I shared a quote about the human ability to be better than our worst impulses, and I ended up talking about the power of people who act as symbols and inspire each other. This week, I wanted to dwell more on the very best part of humanity, the ability to love instead of hate, to be selfless instead of selfish, to be kind, humble, grateful, and to do good in our little corner of the world. That’s really as far as most of us can reach, and yet the world can only ever improve by each of us doing our own small part, in our own little corner, which is so easy to overlook.

Each small life touches ever other life.

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