Wednesday, November 29, 2006

30 Seconds That Ruined The Day

In Frank Capra’s classic It’s A Wonderful Life, the lead character George Bailey has a critical scene where we see him move closer to the end of his rope. His uncle Billy has lost $8,000 of the Bailey Building & Loan's money, he is facing financial ruin, and he comes home at the end of the day forgetting his coat and hat. He walks through the front door with the beginnings of a cold, and the stage is set for an interaction with his family that, while short in duration, impacts his family greatly.

As his mind is reeling under the pressure of the imminent collapse of his business, and his personal liability in the mess, his daughter Janey is merrily practicing a Christmas song for the extended family gathering that night. His wife and son Tommy are busily decorating the tree, and the normal chaos of early evening family life is causing George’s headache to worsen. He finds out his daughter Zuzu has caught a cold because she walked home from school without her coat buttoned up to protect a rose she won as a prize.

When George hears this news, he starts to unreasonably string together all of the pressures on him: his uncle lost the $8k, that money is vital because his business is small and family owned, he is trapped in this position because his father died, the job does not pay well, he therefore can not afford to provide a nice home and other material things for his family, the old house is drafty and cold, his daughter has a cold and his family is going about the daily routine unaware that the little they do have is about to slip away.

He forgets for a moment that what really matters is not slipping away- his family.

George heads upstairs to comfort Zuzu, and after returning, lays into Zuzu’s teacher Mrs. Welch who has called over to the house to check on the little one. He also gets in a dig at her husband Mr. Welch who got on the line after hearing his wife called a stupid, silly, careless person. Everything starts to goes sideways from there.

Janey is still practicing the same song, Tommy needs help with his homework, his other son is making noise playing with some sort of toy, and the weight of it all crashes down on him. He yells at his kids to stop, kicks over the desk in the foyer, knocks off everything from the top of a counter, and stops suddenly when he realizes the impact his behavior is having on his wife and kids. He heads out of the house, distraught and heart broken at how he has treated his family, and begins the fateful journey to end his life.

I had a similar incident happen to me yesterday. Well, not really that similar. Not nearly as tragic, huge and life-changing. And certainly NOT the start of a journey to end my life. I guess not similar at all. But I did sort of lose it yesterday.

After a day at work dealing with a few small things from my current and soon to be ending job, and thinking through options for the future, AND dealing with some pesky things that are rotting on my desk and need to get done, I cut out a bit early and headed upstairs from my office to relax and get in some guitar practice.

A few months ago I pulled out my guitar from storage after it had sat relatively undisturbed for 20 years, and have been logging 30-60 minutes of practice every single day. The time is important to me, and allows me to put the stress of the day out of it's misery.

As I sat down on our great room floor, with some chord charts in front of me, and a few songs to practice pulled up on my laptop, I dove in. Shortly after, my daughter K who was at the kitchen table doing homework came across a song she liked on her digital music player (currently connected to external speakers) and cranked it up. I could barely hear what I was playing.

Then, moments later, my other daughter L started her piano practice in the other room- while my 5 year old wandered downstairs singing some song or other. I was going nuts inside. I just wanted peace and quiet (except for my mediocre strumming and picking) and started to get agitated. I won’t go into the details, but I let it known to all in the immediate vicinity that I wanted them to cease and desist. Probably (more accurately, for sure) in a way that rudely communicated frustration and irritation.

What I know now, the next morning, is that it wasn’t their noise and activity intruding on my guitar practice that set me off. Instead, it was the bubbling pressure from the changes in my life being inappropriately expressed in a way that hurt those close to me.

I know that what I am going through in my life right now is in no way near what George Bailey dealt with- not even close. I also know my actions and attitude pinged a 3 on a scale of 1-10 compared to the characters scale busting 11.

The reason I am tying the two together is because this morning as I was going through my usual routine of scanning the internet for news and information I came across a site that streams old movies out of copyright. With the holidays on my mind I checked to see if the site had my fave Christmas movie, and sure enough- they do. After watching it for a bit, this scene hit me and I thought of my actions yesterday. So, there you go.

Here is the link to the movie online- no cost, no registration, just click the link and hit the play button:

To see the full list of movies and other content available, use this URL:

Merry Christmas.


Holly Schwendiman said...

And it's a wonderful movie too! I think we all need to be reminded how valuable our lives and contributions are...especially when life gets us down. It's also nice to see that no one is a perfect parent!

Holly's Corner
Here via the Carnvial of Family Life :o)

Anonymous said...

Are you aware that you have an amazingly focused family? All focused on music as soon as you did ... or maybe they focused on drowning you out ... nah ... let's go with the first idea ;~)

I do hope your only guilt is about over-reacting. It is not unreasonable to ask your family for 30 min of quiet. After all, I'm sure they all have headphones ;)

Just out cruising the web and noticed the Carnival of Family Life and thought I'd let you know I dropped by.

DigitalRich said...

Holly- thanks for the good words :)

Marillaanne- had not noticed that. Very interesting...all music related. They were not trying to drown me out. Like words of correction or lectures, they have developed the ability to completely block out my guitar playing like it wasn't even happening.