Since 2006 the Pittsburgh Filmakers have shown the film “It’s A Wonderful Life” in one of their theaters during the holiday season. For the last three years, the price of admission has been covered by the donation of a canned or non-perishable food item. It’s collected as part of a food drive supporting the East End Cooperative Ministry. This year I waited to see a showing of this, my favorite holiday film, until the end of the run.
As I approached the door, I was informed that every seat in the theater was taken. The film, though free, was “sold out.” The fellow working the door reminded me that I could return the next night. The showings would continue for one more day. “I can’t,” I said. “I have choir practice. Here, take this.” I handed him my bag of cans. “Thanks” he said, and “Sorry.” He smiled politely. I turned and began walking to my car. I imagined the headline, “Film in 65th year still sells out!” and laughed quietly. I wondered too, how this happened. I had been looking forward to seeing this film for weeks.
Just as I started thinking, I realized the obvious. I was ten minutes late. Ten minutes isn’t a lot of time. And, I know the first ten minutes of this film by heart. Still, tonight, that was late enough. Why was I late? I’d come to the theater from Sweets’ Chorus concert at her Elementary school. The concert had ended early enough, but I’d stuck around afterwards to talk with other parents, teachers, and to congratulate the students that had performed.
I walk Sweets to school almost every day. One of the gifts of that, and of volunteering to chaperone various events, is that I’ve come know the children in her class, by name. There are many more students that I don’t know by name. Many of them, however, know me. When they see me in the morning, they smile, raise their hand for a high five, to wave, or give me a fist bump. One boy, the child of a friend, likes to channel a Star Wars Jedi and use “The Force” against me. The Force is powerful with him. He likes to use it to throw me against the wall. I indulge him. The greetings are part of their morning routine as they walk to class. They’re part of mine, too.
After the concert, I congratulated the students I saw and circled back with their teachers. The ones present had worked a twelve hour day. I wanted to acknowledge their commitment, and thank them for the good work they do. Next year, budget cuts in the school district may mean that some of them lose their jobs. No one knows exactly what that will look like. The staff is working under a cloud. I know what that feels like. It’s not fun. More than ever, they need to be lifted up. I’m good at lifting people up.
Earlier in the day, I’d approached one teacher as she walked down the hall. She was, as she almost always is, wearing a smile. I said, “I can’t tell you what a joy it is to see you wearing a smile at the beginning and at the end of your day.” For a moment, her smile, widened. “You’ve got have your game face on,” she said matter-of-factly. “Well. You forget I’ve seen you teach. I know it’s not just a ‘game face.’ You love what you do, and it shows. I’m a long way away from elementary school. Still, seeing your enthusiasm, often makes my day!” She thanked me. She’s an excellent teacher, and beloved by my Sweets.
That night, I saw many friends, and congratulated them on their son and/or daughter’s performance. To one couple, I spoke of my plan to see the movie that evening. I was speaking with enough enthusiasm that one of them stopped me mid-sentence, saying, “I can tell you’re excited, but you’re not going to convince us to go with you.” His spouse looked at him and smiled the way spouses do, with love. Then she told him “not to be a Grinch.” “Oh no,” I said. “I’m not trying to convince you. I’m just excited.” I’m a cheerleader. Apparently, I even do it when I’m not trying!
Seeing that the post-concert reception was winding down, I walked into the auditorium to see if any help was needed putting things away. As I walked out I noticed two students waiting. I had not seen their parents that evening. I offered them a ride home. They called home to see if their mom was already on her way. She wasn’t. They let her know I’d offered to give them a ride. I took them home. As I dropped them off, I confirmed Christmas Eve plans with their parents. Only then did I head to the theater. You know what happened then.
At this point the reason why I missed the film may be obvious. I didn’t fully understand until the next morning, as I found myself sharing a long hug with a substitute teacher. We were saying goodbye. She’s a great lady, and she’s landed a job in Virginia. She starts after the new year. Now, who gets to know a substitute teacher? Who hugs one even? I mean, really.
In a year and a half, we’d never shared a conversation that lasted longer than two minutes. Most of them were a lot shorter than that. Most of them consisted of a “good morning” greeting, or a “nice to see you back” welcome. Small moments really. The thing is, life is made of small moments. That’s what happened. A few of those little conversations were very very real. As we shared a second hug, this woman whose first name I didn’t even know, thanked me for my support. That’s when I realized how it was that I missed the movie.
I missed it, because this thing I’m living? Well, it’s a wonderful life.