Keep in the middle of the road. – Negro spiritual
According to news reports, last Monday (Jan. 23) was the gloomiest day of 2006.
With dreary weather, letdowns from the joyous holidays, the realization that you’ve already broken your New Year’s resolution and the mail delivery of December credit card bills, many folks would feel overwhelmed and depressed.
In these times of despair, it’s very easy to think how things could be different if only some good fortune came your way. A new job, more money, a new . . . something to make your life better than the way it is now.
Yet, there’s always a catch – the grass only seems greener on the other side of the fence. What you imagine to be a better situation usually turns out to have its own set of problems.
It’s like switching lanes, in traffic or at the store. Ever notice how the first lane you were in moves quicker after you leave it? You’re better off staying put and seeing your temporary setbacks through to the end.
Reporter Bruce Nolan (Jim Carrey) never wanted to stay put in the film Bruce Almighty. Despite a television reporting career that often made viewers laugh and smile, Bruce wanted more. He wanted an important job that would give him more prestige, money and power.
After he is bypassed for the news anchor position, Bruce challenges God (Morgan Freeman) and proclaims that he could do a better job. God decides to let him prove it by giving Bruce all His powers and makes him responsible for everyone’s prayers.
For a while, Bruce is flying high with his new powers and gets everything he wants. He creates favorable traffic patterns, he sabotages his co-worker who got the anchor job, and he even successfully potty trains his dog.
But this new high doesn’t last forever. He gets overwhelmed with answering prayers and his quick solution to give everyone what they want just causes more problems.
Bruce only finds happiness when he understands how his work brings joy to other people and when he truly listens to the needs of his girlfriend Grace (Jennifer Anniston). Bruce journeys from the highs of almighty powers back to a happy middle of the road.
Conversely, George Bailey experiences a similar journey in It’s a Wonderful Life, but one that hits bottom first before returning to a happy middle ground.
After George (Jimmy Stewart) accepts responsibility for Uncle Billy’s misplacement of the $8,000, he decides that everyone would be better off if they could collect $15,000 from his life insurance policy. After Clarence (Angel 2nd Class) visits and tries to steer him away from suicide, George ultimately decides that it would have been best if he had never been born.
But as he soon finds out, the world is a lot worse without the influence of George Bailey. Without him, Mr. Gower poisons a boy and spends twenty years in jail. Harry Bailey dies from drowning in an icy pond and dozens of soldiers die from an air raid of a military transport. The charming town of Bedford Falls becomes a modern day Sodom and Gomorrah called Pottersville. Even the loving heart of Mary Hatch (Donna Reed) withers from inactivity – no husband, no home, no children to nourish, cherish and enjoy.
George finally realizes that his life is worth living, even if he has to go to jail. He’d rather live his middle-class life with his loving family, friends and all his troubles than live without them. As his brother Harry toasts the final scene, George is “the richest man in town” because of all of his friends and the good that he does in his life.
No matter what your life situation is, everyone experiences emotional highs and lows. How well we respond to both ends of the emotional roller coaster says a lot about our character and our faith. Of course there’s always room for improvement, for we are only human. We can always work to be more Christ-like.
But life in the middle is good, for it keeps us connected to our family, friends and a merciful God who loves us for who we are today.
There’s a song in the middle of the film White Christmas that Bob Wallace (Bing Crosby) sings to Betty Haynes (Rosemary Clooney) when she has trouble sleeping. “When my bankroll is getting small, I think of when I had none at all, and I fall asleep, counting my blessings.”
Here’s to a happy 2006. May you always find happiness in the blessings God has given you.
First published in the January 27, 2006 issue of The Tennessee Register.
© 2006 Christopher Fenoglio.