I’m looking for tangible metrics on how important I am in this world, and I think the answer is in Jimmy Stewart.
My odd family has only one tradition, and it comes in the form of a 120-minute black and white film that you may have heard of. It’s called It’s a Wonderful Life. Christmases at my house, although similar to everyone else’s plentiful picture of tree-lined gifts and billowing stockings, erred slightly on the impatient side. After dinner, my sister and I would form a functional assembly line so that we could rip through gifts before 8pm and win the race to the television. The movie started at that time, and we had to prepare our questions.
The object of my family’s Christmas game was for each member to draft a list of tricky questions about the film that we would use to out smart each other on how Jimmy Stewart realized he was important in this world. Paper and pencils in hand, my mother squinting at the screen refusing to wear her glasses, my father smirking childishly, scribbling his answers, my sister, getting frustrated with the commercials, and the increasing volume that seemed to go up a notch when my mother would say, “Shhhh, I can’t hear.” Me, the youngest, searching for tangible metrics on how our importance is measured in life. My questions were always too philosophical to win, but I think I understood the premise more than any of them. You only see how important you are when you cease to exist.
As much as we insulate our lives to prioritize the scarcity of time, our lives are not contained. Our lives bleed, absorbed by those that we meet, most people we know, and everyone that we love. As much as we might feel the exchange from visible to invisible, our voices never cease to be heard by those who are listening. Those who have absorbed your life.
I’m a sucker for tradition. My only direct question in the Christmas game each year asked where Jimmy had placed his daughter’s rose petals when pretending to glue them back on to the flower. The answer, which everyone always got right, was in his pocket. LuLu’s petals, were the only tangible metric of his journey through seeing what his life would have been like without him.
Out of my sister and I, I was the only one who ever brought an outsider into the Christmas game. My boyfriends, paper and pencil in hand, trying desperately to outsmart my father, trying genuinely to be accepted by my odd family, trying - without fail- to show me that some metrics will never be tangible. And that having faith in yourself, and in the footprint you’ve made in the process, will last past your existence and be fused into the memories of those who you have passed through.