It’s a Wonderful Strife

Maybe it’s because of the lack of children, but my household has never had very many Christmas traditions. Oh, there are plenty of them once I head back home to my mother’s house each year, but no traditions in my own home—except for one, that is.

Holiday Flyer
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But what I lack on the home front is more than over-compensated for by our office traditions. We Keycommers (our parent company’s name is Key Communications Inc.) go all-out and beyond for Christmas. If there’s another company that does it up like we do, I don’t know it—but if you do, please let me know about it and what company traditions you have. It would be neat to see what other industry companies do.

Right now, we have all picked our Secret Santas out of a hat, the office tree is up, and the door-decorating contest is going on. There’s even a secret elf going around decorating people’s desks. As you can see by the attached “memo” (see picture), we keep adding traditions—and it’s actually lots of fun. So the office is quite ripe with festivity.

Tradition is that indescribable mix of history and legacy that combine to be both excitingly new and comfortably old. Mine is quite fresh in my mind, because it just took place Saturday evening. Here it is: I always watch the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” and try to decorate the tree while it’s on. Well, I didn’t get too far with the tree, but I watched the movie as if I’d never seen it before—again.

It’s one of my favorite movies of all time, and this year, I spent some time trying to mentally articulate why I love it. Oh, I could give you all the usual reasons, such as, “we all like to think the world is better because we were born,” or that “no man who has friends is an island,” and that “good triumphs over evil in the end,” etc., etc.

But this year as I watched the movie for the probably the 38th or 39th time, I figured out why I so love it.

wonderfullifeIn addition to all the usual themes, “It’s a Wonderful Life” is a love letter to the small businesses of this country. It shows how totally tied the people who run them are to their businesses—how they, in effect, become their companies, and vice versa. “Peter Bailey WAS the savings and loan,” say the members of the bank’s board of directors to our hero George after his father dies. And in that conversation, George realizes that closing it down would deny his father’s legacy. And so he becomes the business.

The movie also accurately portrays the tugs of small business. First, when they must toil away against giants, or companies with more resources or fewer morals. “I could crush you George if I want to,” warns old man Potter, and we know he means it. George must always fight Goliath, just as many of our small businesses do now—only today, they fight the Walmarts and Staples of the world.

The second tug the film depicts accurately is the dissonance between believing in running a small, ethical business and how much of your most precious commodity—your time—must be devoted to it. George Bailey was going to travel the world, yet every time he tried to do so, the business won. You can see the look of somber resignation when he realizes he won’t be off to some exotic location as a young man or for his honeymoon because the business needs him.

And when George and Mary stand in the new housing development in Bedford Falls and see all the good his work has done for others, he tempers how satisfying that feels with the knowledge of the personal price he’s paid. It’s hard to be the responsible one, the designated driver of life, all the time. And small business owners are. “Why don’t you kids drive down to Florida with us?” Sam Wainwright inquires to the incredulous looks on the faces of George and Mary. “No, it would be hard to get away,” George says wistfully.

Running a small business is always a balancing act full of trade-offs. That’s why, when the day is done and the office is closing for Christmas or Hanukkah, who will be the last one there shutting off the lights? And who’ll answer the phone after hours and do the emergency board-up so they don’t have to bother anyone during the holiday? Every industry has its George Bailey, and the glass industry is no exception. Merry Christmas to them all.
And me? Well, at the next viewing of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” I am going to focus on younger brother Harry. It seems he didn’t come back to Bedford Falls because he got a great opportunity in Buffalo…. to run a glass plant.