It’s Christmas here on the prairie, and to try and stem the typical holiday blues, yesterday I watched A Muppet Christmas Carol, White Christmas, Miracle on 34th Street, A Christmas Story (on DVD, not on TBS), and ended the day with It’s A Wonderful Life.
I haven’t watched It’s A Wonderful Life for 13 years. The last time I watched it, I watched it with someone I was sure I’d be married to within a year. The time before that, I watched it with someone I was sure I’d be married to within a year. The time before that, I watched it with someone I was actually engaged to.
So I’ve avoided it these past 13 years because I just anticipated it would trigger all kinds of holiday PTSD.
I’m happy to report that it didn’t, but it did make me think: if I didn’t exist, how would the world be different?
That took me down a pretty morbid path, so instead I imagined what my life would be like if I had made a different choice twenty years ago. I’ve written before about the moment my life changed, but I’ve never really given much thought to what my life would have been like had I stayed in Montana and married that boy.
I let myself imagine that life last night, and it wasn’t pretty. Had we gotten married when I was 20 with no education and he was 19 and a baker’s apprentice, we may have stayed in that studio apartment for several years because we had so little money. Since he thought my going to college–or even my writing–lacked value, I would have stayed in telemarketing for several years, never really feeling fulfilled with my work. I probably would have gotten pregnant at some point, so I’d probably have a couple of kids, but I’m certain that the kids would have been the result of him trying to convince me to not leave him, and I would have spent a good deal of time doing everything I could to make sure I (or the kids) didn’t upset him, lest he lash out. As I immersed myself in that hypothetical, I saw no sunshine. I saw no vacations. I saw no laughter.
And after I imagined that dreary existence, I tried to imagine not knowing the people I know now. That’s one of the most poignant parts of It’s A Wonderful Life, when George Bailey is traipsing around town as a stranger. These people he’s known forever do not know him. What would it be like if I had stayed in Montana and I visited my family in Nebraska for Christmas? I’d go to Starbucks and maybe see students I teach or people I work with and not know them. I’d go to a movie and standing behind me in line might be a former student I haven’t seen in years, except he wouldn’t be a former student because I never would have finished college. Even sadder to me is that I wouldn’t know my dear friends from Ohio or Utah–people who have made my life so much better just by knowing them–because I never would have graduated from college and never would have gone to grad school.
I often think how different my life would be if I hadn’t told that boy I loved him, because I see that moment as completely altering the life I now have, often blaming that moment for why I am single. Taking some time to think how different my life would be if I hadn’t left that boy took away some of the holiday blues I feel on Christmas Eve.
Because even though I woke up this morning to empty stockings and nothing under my Christmas tree, it really is a bit of a wonderful life.