Dear Father in heaven, I’m not a praying man, but if you’re up there and you can hear me,
show me the way … – George Bailey, “It’s a Wonderful Life”
There’s a reason rain is used as a metaphor for our tears and sadness. It’s a Biblical metaphor on numerous occasions – “the rain falls on the just and the unjust.” A hint of sadness helps us remember the sweetness in life, just as rain helps grow the crops; but a flood of rain drowns the crops, as in Iowa recently.
No movie scene ever has more desperation than Jimmy Stewart’s George Bailey sitting at Martini’s bar, after learning his uncle has lost the Bailey Building and Loan’s money and he himself will be arrested. But I’ve experienced that level of desperation every few months – for more than a dozen years – thanks to my bipolar disorder.
Yet in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” George’s suicidalness isn’t the end; it’s the beginning. George is on the verge of jumping off a bridge, when he sees a drowning man he feels a primal urge to save – who turns out to be his otherworldly savior.
Realizing such things can happen, I believe, is how you survive the unsurvivable.
I guess I could be pretty pissed off about what happened to me… but it’s hard to stay mad, when there’s so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I’m seeing it all at once, and it’s too much, my heart fills up like a balloon that’s about to burst… And then I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold on to it, and then it flows through me like rain and I can’t feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life … – Lester Burnham, “American Beauty.”
The closing monologue of “American Beauty,” to me, wonderfully illustrates the frontier between the rain of depression and the dream of hope. The question is, how do you realize that before death, unlike Kevin Spacey’s Lester Burnham?
I think, like George Bailey, you have to realize you have something to live for – a significant other, children, parents, friends, even a whole town. And not least, YOURSELF. To truly believe that every life is a wonderful life – that every biography, no matter how seemingly bizarre or mundane, contains the essence of the human struggle, and that even as one is cursed by the need to struggle, one is also blessed by the process of going through it.
And what if, like me, you still haven’t figured out your purpose?
Then I believe, like Don Quixote, it is most important to hold onto our dreams when they are impossible. Or at least, when they seem impossible. That tilting at windmills is not always a bad thing.
Why? Because, whether you believe in God, or just believe that this world is incredibly random (and I wrestle with that question), the conclusion both of those beliefs converge toward is that, in some sense, nothing is impossible.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.