Column/Honoring a life lived for others

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 29, 2007

One of my favorite movies has an ending that seemed appropriate to me this week.

I might should start this column with a caution that a movie spoiler is included, however, the movie in question is “It’s a Wonderful Life,” a film made about 60 years ago.

So, if you haven’t watched it yet, it’s a safe bet I won’t ruin it for you.

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In summary, George Bailey needs $8,000 to keep from losing his building and loan and going to jail.

He becomes desperate, considers suicide and says a prayer.

His prayer is answered with a miracle. First, the appearance of Clarence, an angel.

But, the real miracle is not of the supernatural kind. It’s friends who come through for him in the end, indicating how much his life has touched the lives of others. The climax shows the wide reach of a positive influence that one man can have.

I was reminded of that while attending a funeral Thursday. A longtime family friend, Gary Aldridge, died suddenly this week.

Gary was pastor of Thorington Road Baptist Church in Montgomery and his service was attended by hundreds of people.

As I looked around at a standing room only crowd, I thought about how much Gary had meant to me and my family.

I’ve known him since I was a kid. He and my father traveled together one summer, conducting revivals throughout the South. (Gary sang, my father preached).

When I went away to attend college in Virginia, it was Gary who picked me up at the airport on a very cold, snowy January day. He was a dean at the college then and he and his wife, Jan, provided a home away from home for me while I was in school.

As I thought of how my life had been touched by Gary, it occurred to me that each and every person attending that service had stories they could tell about what he meant to them.

How he prayed with them, wept and laughed with them. The times he came through in a crunch, or provided encouragement and support.

Then, I thought about ministries he had been involved in over the years. And mission trips he made. And the indirect influence he’s had on people he’s never even met.

You may think that’s always how it is at a funeral service – that we remember the good that people do. That’s not the case.

“It’s a Wonderful Life” has a surreal counterpart in Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.”

In this book – and movie – we see the negative impact a life can have on others when Ebenezer Scrooge is shown the present and future by his visiting ghosts.

He sees the ruined lives caused by his neglect and greed. He sees his own lost potential. He realizes the good he could have done for others, but didn’t.

The fact is, our lives are all interconnected. We have an influence – positive or negative – on those around us. And we have that influence every day that we live.

What a wonderful legacy for Gary to leave –

that hundreds, or possibly thousands of people around the world have been positively influenced by his presence on earth.

Tammy Leytham is editor of The Selma Times-Journal.