What if I had never been born?

After not seeing my family for 5 months, it was great to be able to head home to New Jersey for Thanksgiving last week. On Saturday, my parents suggested we put up the Christmas tree and then watch the movie “It’s A Wonderful Life,” a movie I have seen only 1,000 times. Seriously, I am not exaggerating here! I think we have every line of the film memorized.

george baileyThat being said, even old favorites can bring new insights. George Bailey, played by James Stewart, is a man who has given up his dreams of traveling the world in order to help others and has recently fallen on hard times. He is saved from committing suicide by the intervention of a guardian angel named Clarence. Depressed and hopeless, George tells Clarence, “I wish I were never born.” Clarence replies “You mustn’t talk like that” and then takes George on a journey where he sees just how much he has affected the lives of the people in his small town, and just how different their lives would have been if he were never born. Thinking back to my own struggles with depression, I said out loud, “Wouldn’t it be great if all of us could have a Clarence?”

But, wait a minute, maybe all of us could! No, I don’t mean that an angel is going to come down from heaven and sweep us off our feet (unless perhaps we drink a bit too much egg nog). Rather, in times of desperation, we can seriously ask ourselves, “What if I had never been born?” edith stein quoteIts easy to feel disappointment for not living up to expectations (our own and others). We may not have the job we want, we may not bring in enough money; we may not have won on Olympic medal or published a book or started a non-profit to bring about world peace. But it’s often the things we take for granted, the things we overlook, that have made the biggest impact. It’s the time you gave a friend advice, or made him laugh during a time of struggle. It’s the time you shared a life-inspiring book or movie with someone that they never would have read if it weren’t for you. It’s the time you believed in someone and cheered them on so that they graduated from school, finished a race, or gave a speech to large audience, even though they were afraid. They are the things you do not know or may never know. Maybe your blog post was anonymously read by someone whose heart was touched by your words. Maybe chatting with the guy next to you on the subway last week made him decide life was worth living.

As an Advent challenge, I began to think about my own life. If I were never born, my parents would not have a child and most likely would not have gotten a dog and later provided a loving home to a rescue animal. If I were never born, a friend from high school would have never learned to play the flute and realized how amazing she was at it. If I were never born, some students from my alma mater may have never learned about the strong women figures of the Bible. I’m imperfect and I do not have everything I want, but my life has been a gift.

clarenceThis Advent challenge, however, should also include another task. We can and should strive to be a Clarence, a guardian angel, in the lives of others. According to Christian phenomenologist Edith Stein, in her book On the Problem of Empathy, “it is possible for another to judge me more accurately than I judge myself and give me clarity about myself.” We may think the people in our lives know how much they mean to us. We may think they are so smart, beautiful, talented, or kind that they do not need our words. Yet, just as George Bailey kept his struggles to himself, those around us might be carrying burdens in their hearts.

Say thanks
So, if the advice your mom gave you as a kid (that you used to roll your eyes at) helped you through a hard task recently, let her know! If a professor taught you something that has really helped you grow as a scholar, tell her! If talking to your boyfriend at night puts a smile on your face after a long and draining day, tell him! If you miss one of your college or high school friends because she was always so much fun, tell her! If something a colleague said in class really opened your eyes, tell her! If you enjoyed the priest’s homily on Sunday, tell him!

george bailey 2Advent is a time of new beginnings. Perhaps, if we reflect on how our lives have been a gift and take the time to let others know just how much their lives are a gift, we can begin to see the world with new eyes. And who knows? Maybe we will even find ourselves having a George Bailey moment, being filled with glee at the simple fact that we are alive. “Merry Christmas, you wonderful old Building and Loan!”

*Please note: Depression and anxiety are serious issues. This blog post is not intended as a replacement for the advice of experienced medical professionals. If you or someone you know is struggling with depression or contemplating suicide, please seek help or encourage them to do so.

9 replies

  1. A beautiful reminder about what really matters in life. Thank you.

  2. Beautiful thought…it is so important to realize how our lives how been a gift…what better time to start than during Advent, a time for new beginnings!

  3. Thank you Kate! I loved reading your piece. I’ve returned to it three times today to let it sink in. You’ve made me realize that I can be a gift to others..

  4. It is in the giving (not just physical gifts) the gifts (of ourself!!) that we truly receive….

  5. I always thought a gift was something you could not accept or return in other words you have a choice of taking it or refusing it. You can do neither with life. There are people out there that wish they were not born just something to think about for all you want to be parents. Advantages to not being born? Never have to die. Never have any wants or needs. Never see loved ones die. Never have pain. Never have you heart broken. I could go on and on but, what’s the use.

  6. I do feel like it would be better to have never been born often; even though I beleive in God, and even though I’ve not had an awful life at all, I’ve had lots of hardships to say the least but always come through… None the less, I struggle to see the point of going through all of the difficulties this life and world can present only to die whilst others grab at what you’ve left, assuming you have been fortunate enough to have accumulated material possessions, I’ve seen the greed and lack of caring that arises in families over inheritances, it’s a sickening end to one’s difficult existence. I live and will die in hope that it all means somthing and has purpose we cannot appreciate living trapped in a material world… Because if it does not have purpose and we just return to nothingness once again, then it most definitely is better to have never lived even if you have done great things, no one will care andaand all will be forgotten as our universe ceases to exist, truly meaningless. But I live in hope.

  7. It is a common opinion that a father that does not protect his child or children is sh*t father. The god of Christians is said to be all-powerful, all-knowing and everlasting. It has also been said that he is a good father. Did he protect his son? Does he prevent the abuse, molestation, and trafficking of of children? The answer is “No”. By reason and logic, the character that is referred to as god by Christians can not be whom he is claimed to be. Placing faith in such a thing is delusional and foolish. Some may argue that his respect of free will is so great that god will not stop the atrocities and tragedies that occur. To that point, I answer there is no justification for such evil, and to suggest otherwise is dismissive of this truth. Yet in this world, evil not only exists, it thrives abundantly. Do not let yourselves be deceived!

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