This is a true story.
I have changed some of the details to protect the innocent and the not so innocent. Even though I hide behind a pen name, I have to respect some confidences here. I don’t want certain people to read this story and say “hey, that was me.”
A lifetime ago I was in a difficult place. I had made some mistakes, a few bad judgement calls. The whole world was against me. It felt as if people I had thought of as friends were queuing up to stab me in the back. And then twist the knife.
Before your imaginations run wild, I ought to say that this wasn’t one of those Jimmy Saville legal things. It wasn’t as if the police were about to get involved. It hurt like the devil, but we’re not talking lawbreaking here. Trust me on this one. It was bad, but not that bad.
They say that when you find yourself in a hole you should stop digging. That’s a cute line and there’s a lot of sense in it, but it’s only the first thing you should do. When you have stopped digging you need to look upwards and try to find the way out.
That’s the tricky bit. I had got myself into this hole. I didn’t have the first clue about how I had got here or how I was going to get out.
There is a particular man-thing that gets in the way at times like this. Many of us a very strong instinct for self-reliance. We think that we have to solve all our problems on our own. Maybe it’s a throwback to school days when we had to do our exams without any external help. Maybe it’s an arrogant macho male thing. I don’t know.
My first instinct was that I thought I absolutely had to solve this problem myself, because that’s what we men do. I pride myself on being a problem solver. Usually.
Of course, if I knew how to get out of this hole. I would probably not have fallen into it in the first place. I needed help – something more than I could do for myself.
That’s when I had the good fortune to meet Jane. That’s not her real name, but it will have to do. She knows who she is. She is a professional adviser, counsellor, mentor, coach. Someone with the experience and training to help people get out of holes. Think of her as International Rescue without the colour-ordinated rockets and unfeasibly bright yellow submarine. And no strings attached.
Jane helped me to stop digging. She showed me why I had fallen in to this hole. She lifted my chin up from the floor. Would it be over the top to say that she saved my life? Probably, but she certainly felt like a lifesaver at the time.
But that wasn’t enough. I still had to find my own way out of that hole. Jane was reaching down a helping hand, but no one person has the strength to lift you out. You need to do at least some of the climbing yourself.
I found the way out in an unexpected way. It was the film “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
Have you ever seen the film? At one time, just about everyone in the western world had seen it. The film company made a mistake when they registered the rights for the movie. This meant that American TV channels could show the movie for free. It became a firm favourite at Christmas. England had its Christmas Day inevitable James Bond film. America had “It’s a Wonderful Life”.
I would not be surprised if you haven’t seen it. It was made in 1946 in glorious black and white. That seems a million miles away from movies of today with their 4K, high definition, surround sound, 3D special effects.
But this film does something rather special. It follows the story of George Bailey, brilliantly played by James Stewart. George is a kind-hearted dreamer who finds himself in an impossible situation. He is growing disillusioned about his life which has never lived up to his dreams. Then life throws him a curve-ball – a money problem that he cannot solve on his own. As the movie opens, he is about to commit suicide because he cannot see any other way out.
I won’t tell you any more about the film because I don’t want to spoil it for you. All I will say is that there is a happy ending to beat all happy endings. George does find the way out of his problems with the help of his friends.
If you haven’t seen it, then you should. If you need help getting out of a hole, or if life doesn’t live up to your expectations, then “It’s a Wonderful Life” will show you how. I ought to give you a health warning. IAWL is one of those movies that even big macho men cry at. I can’t watch it all the way through without blubbing like a babe.
The film certainly helped me. It gave me one of those eureka moments where something simply clicks. With Jane’s help, and the inspiration from the movie, I was able to climb out of that hole. I have long since put those problems behind me and moved on. Life is good – very good indeed.
Some of the issues I was dealing with at that time are hidden in “Love, Death and Tea” and “Global Domination for Beginners”. Both have well-meaning main characters who find themselves in difficult situations that they don’t know how to escape. You didn’t think I made everything up, did you?
In a sense, both of those books are my homage to “It’s a Wonderful Life”.
I leant my copy of the movie to Jane. After she had watched it, I asked her to keep it. Maybe one day she might be able to give the DVD to someone else who needed it like I had. I couldn’t watch the movie any more.
That was several years ago, and to be honest I had largely forgotten about it. I half expected that she might have quietly given the DVD away to a charity shop. Just because the movie was important to me didn’t mean that it would mean the same thing to anyone else.
Out of the blue, Jane sent me an email the other day. She had waited for the right moment and the right person, but she had indeed given the DVD to one of her clients. And it had helped them in the same way that it had helped me. They were able to make a difficult decision – to climb out of a hole.
I can’t begin to tell you how that makes me feel. There are all these memories of pain and hurt from the time when I was in that situation. Then the slow recovery, coming back to normality. And now I have the wonderfully cheering thought that one more person has made the same journey, with a little help from George Bailey. And Jane.
It felt as if I had earned my wings.
Sometimes you just have to say “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
And, yes, I do recommend the movie whether you are feeling desperate or not. Just have a packet of tissues handy, you hear? Don’t say I didn’t warn you.