Monday, 21 December 2015

Turning life's corners

We’re currently hearing Wham’s Last Christmas on digital TV’s numerous music channels.  Why not, it’s one of the better Christmas songs.

Another George Michael track has become a genuine pop classic – Careless Whisper.  Apparently, he wrote it when he was just 16-years-old.  How could someone so young be so aware of the impact of infidelity, including on the person who has been unfaithful:

I feel so unsure
As I take your hand
And lead you to the dancefloor
As the music dies
Something in your eyes
Calls to mind a silver screen
And all its sad goodbyes.

I’m never gonna dance again
Guilty feet have got no rhythm
Though it’s easy to pretend
I know you’re not a fool
I should have known better than to cheat a friend
And waste a chance that I’ve been given
So I’m never gonna dance again
The way I danced with you.

I believe, though, that the most profound words George Michael has written are found in another song – A Different Corner.

The track was a UK Number 1 in 1986 but has never received the recognition of Careless Whisper, which achieved the same position two-years earlier.

A Different Corner appears to be a simple love song, but to apply that description would be like saying the film It’s A Wonderful Life is ‘simply a Christmas movie’.

Under a snowy, Christmas surface, It’s A Wonderful Life actually tells the story of the inter-dependency of individuals in society.  When the main character, George Bailey, says he wishes he’d never been born, his guardian angel, Clarence, lets him see how things would have turned-out if that had been the case, if George had never existed.

What we see is a nightmare scene, with everyone George knows and loves suffering different levels of pain and hardship because he hadn’t been there to help and support them.

It’s a simple storyline that brilliantly illustrates a core element of our lives.  In our journey from cradle to grave we interact with so many people.  Some contacts are fleeting, others lifelong.  Some almost instantly forgotten, others deep and profound.  We touch so many lives, and the seemingly-small decisions and actions we take in those moments can impact massively on the direction of our life.

In A Different Corner, George Michael describes it like this:

Take me back in time maybe I can forget
Turn a different corner and we never would have met.

Deciding to get a later train one day; choosing to speak to the person at the bus stop; walking home and taking a different route, turning a different corner and bumping into someone you wouldn’t otherwise have met.

How many different corners were turned before you met the love of your life?  Have you ever distractedly walked along a street and, almost without thinking, turned a corner, changing your journey?  Did that seemingly-small decision mean, perhaps, that you didn’t meet the person who was perfect for you and who was walking down the street you left by turning the corner?

What if your grandparents had turned different corners and had never met?  On a personal level, I wonder how many corners were turned – in the correct direction – before the daughter of an Irish farm-labourer arrived in Ardrossan, where she met the son of a coal-miner from the east-coast of Scotland.

Every seemingly-small decision we take has the potential to produce a deeply-significant and profound outcome in our life and in the lives of others.

Some people call it fate, and there certainly is an element of chance or luck in many aspects of our life-journey - external factors beyond our control will always impinge on our plans – but the seemingly trivial things we do, like deciding to turn a different corner, can lead us to people and opportunities we hadn’t factored into our plan.

Life doesn’t have a script.  We can’t control everything, but we can contribute to how the story develops and ends.  Seemingly-small decisions - turning different corners - result in challenges and opportunities.  Overcoming the challenges and grasping the opportunities determine whether or not our life-story has a happy ending.

Of course, we don’t exist in isolation: our decisions and actions impact on others, sometimes to a massive extent, as we see with George Bailey in It’s A Wonderful Life.  Every corner we turn in our life is a decision, a choice, and every action we take has a consequence for ourselves and others.

To the extent we can, let’s try to turn the corners and choose the paths that lead to us helping, not hurting others.  As we go forward, external factors – whatever form they take – may try to pull us towards dark side-roads where we struggle to see where we are heading.

The least we can do is look for the corner to the brightly-lit road that leads to a better life for everyone. 

Have a good Christmas and a great 2016…and look for those corners.

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