Monday, December 22, 2008

It's a Wonderful Life

Did I mention that I saw this radio play of "It's a Wonderful Life" over at the theater at Penn Field (Austin Playhouse King Stage) Saturday night? It is the story of George Bailey but done as if six actors were performing it as a radio play in the 1940's. They took on multiple characters (Mr. Potter is also one of George Bailey's kids, not to mention the head Angel, helping Clarence!) The cast did the sound effects like on old radio. Its run is finished now so this isn't a review. (In fact, it wasn't on my radar until one of the gals I was going out with on Saturday suggested it and found that they did have a few tickets for that performance.)

Anyway, I like that story because I'm rather fascinated by the way chance and actions conspire to make life what it is. The premise of "It's a Wonderful Life" is not that George Bailey has a great life. He really doesn't. His dreams were thwarted. (Oh, you might count the wife and kids in the drafty house as a great life, but that's you.) No, to me, the fascinating premise is that George gets to see the world with him erased, as if nothing changed except that one little thing never happened: the accident of his father's particular sperm and his mother's particular egg getting joined. He doesn't see the aftermath if he succeeds in jumping off the bridge and drowning. No. He gets to see the world truly without him.

Just as an aside, before I continue, there was an article in The New York Times this week about the movie and one man's experience with it. There is a funny bit in there theorizing that maybe life would have been more wonderful without George.

So. Have you ever thought about that? What if you hadn't been conceived? You weren't an aborted fetus or a baby or child killed in a tragic accident. You just were not there, never thought of, literally never conceived.

It does change things, doesn't it? Maybe my parents wouldn't have had a second child. If my sister was their only child, things would have been different all along the way. Maybe my mother would have gone back to school four or five years earlier when my sister started school instead of when I did. They could have given my sister more things and avoiding sending a second kid to college, gotten financially solvent sooner.

When my parents grew old, however, and their support system in North Texas was disappearing, they wouldn't have moved to Austin to be near the baby child and get some help from her. They might have moved to be near my sister in Colorado, but I doubt it. My sister had a cerebral aneurysm rupture in 1998. At that point I bet they would still have hoped that my brother-in-law would retire and he and my sister would move to Texas. My sister had a long recovery and many set-backs. She can do many things but she is handicapped by the hemorrhagic stroke and the other strokes that followed. The first time my parents visited her, in March 1999 in rehab in Denver, I took them there, worried about them being in the snow and ice. They might have tried to move there all the same. My sister had children and, starting in 2000, grandchildren there. My mother would still have had Multiple Myeloma, I suppose, and I suppose it would have been eventually diagnosed. Certainly she would probably still have died in 2002. Although one never knows.

So I see my Dad. Alone in that house in the Dallas suburb? Moved to Colorado where the thin air bothered his breathing after a few weeks? But, who knows, maybe better off. Maybe without the burden of another kid, my parents would be strong and vigorous and both still alive. Who's to say?

The other close to home thing is wondering what my husband of thirty-plus years would be doing. He says if he hadn't found me he would have never married. But I wonder. He might not have started his business less than a year after we married if he hadn't had a partner to pay bills. He might not have been there to take a call from a young man at UT selling gray market IBM PCs and do advertising for him as his business morphed into a build-to-order and sell direct PC firm. I'm betting that he wouldn't have bought a bigger house that same year he started the business. He might not have purchased a building to run his agency during the Dell era. The doctor who now owns that building and the house we bought that year would probably have put his practice some other place.

I wonder if the man who never met me because I didn't exist would have ended up in a condo downtown. My bet is that he would have married someone else who was smart and driven but wanted children and ended up in Tarrytown with some way too intelligent smart ass kids that he nevertheless loved unmercifully. Or maybe he would have left the company where we met, but not started an ad agency in Austin and, instead, moved to some other city. As an only child he would be looking back to Austin at his very elderly parents and trying to see that they were all right from a distance.

Then there are the jobs I had. I wouldn't have been there to write certain lines of code, to create certain bugs and avoid or fix others. I wouldn't have been there to think up software ideas or squash others' visions. It would have been different. Better? Worse? Barely noticeable? Hard to say.

I don't really think the world would be that different without me especially once you move out of a pretty tight circle around me. But little things would be different. There would be one less site on Holidailies. (Or more spookily someone else doing a site called Visible Woman! But that would be an entirely different site anyway.)

Well, um, that was an instructive line of thought. But since I do exist I have to clean the condo and go have lunch and dinner with friends who would be doing something else today. In fact, one of them would probably not live in Austin if we hadn't met forty years ago or so. So they'd be doing something someplace else. We are having lunch with Dad who wouldn't live in Austin. Whoa, it's just too weird.

1 comment:

Sarah said...

I'm pretty sure that if I had never been born, my mother would have committed suicide in her 30's. She always said (and the extended family concurred) that my presence and the harm her suicide would do to me kept her alive.

Instead, she lived into her 80's and died at her own hand when it was obvious the painful and degrading end was near. She always had a horror of ending up a vegetable.

If I had not been born to her, I would have been born to someone else, perhaps less intelligent, perhaps less able to respect and cherish me and allow me the room to grow.

Who knows?