It all adds up

Maria made my tiny self look like a towering giant. But the power that barely 5-ft. woman wielded was amazing.

The cleaning woman in the Michigan Ave. high-rise office building I worked in decades ago lived, I’m sure, far from the Chicago office tower she cleaned. Her English was limited but she was generous enough to try to teach me a few Polish phrases. I was a 20-something who worked late often, so when she came to clean my office, chances were I was still occupying it.

Maria was a whirlwind who worked hard, her persistent body odor a testament to the physical oomph she put behind her work. Dust bunnies cowered, I’m sure, when they saw her coming.

Many times, the CEO I worked with was also working late. He’d come to my office after hours to discuss something (one of the few times we could do so without interruption). And in whooshed Maria. The three of us were an odd trio but we communicated as best we could and laughed together at shared jokes.

I still think of Maria to this day. Do you know why? Because even though she was cleaning offices—hardly a job revered in our society—she cleaned like it was a calling. When I walked into my office in the morning and flipped the lights on, I always had a feeling of peace. Everything straightened, dusted, put right. Does that sound small to you? I guess it was. But small things sometimes have the greatest impact. That moment of peace was one of the few I got in a busy, stressful corporate life. And I thanked Maria often for her efforts.

My son had a teacher a couple of years ago. In addition to being a technically excellent math teacher, this man took his responsibility to his fellow human beings seriously. You know how I could tell? Every Friday was a feel-good day. He’d share an inspirational video or story with the kids in his classes. They’d talk about the good things (and the tough things) in their week. They’d shore each other up in a teenaged culture that all too often tears down. My son still talks about this teacher. And not only did he help him love math, he helped him believe in his fellow human beings.

There’s a checkout clerk at my local grocery store. She is older and a bit slower than some of the other clerks. But even as she is ringing up my items, she notices when the bagger gets sloppy. “Nothing that heavy on top of the eggs,” she’ll say. Or, “That bag will break on her as she loads her car. You need to take some items out.” She always smiles at me and makes conversation. I know what you’re thinking—it’s just groceries, right? But she does her job so well that it makes my life a little easier—whether that’s carefully packed bags that don’t break or her insisting they replace the grapes on the conveyor belt because she notices some in the middle are fuzzy. In a life where I feel I have far too many things on my mind at all times, she takes a couple of potential things off of it. She attends to them so I don’t have to do so.

From a technical support phone rep who knows their stuff and doesn’t give up on helping you solve a problem, to a takeout clerk who ensures your full food order is in the bag before you leave the restaurant, there are a host of people in our lives doing jobs that aren’t sought after but make such a difference in our daily lives. Think about your last bad day. Chances are, it wasn’t huge, awful things happening to make it a bad day. It was likely a host of tiny things piling up that led to you pouring an early glass of red wine or putting your head in your hands at your desk.

I talk to so many people who want to “boil the ocean.” They talk of the state of our world and feel helpless. What if we each just did what was in front of us to do, to the best of our ability, and cared about the result? I tell my son often to throw things in the recycling bin. “What difference does it make, Mom, when half the world doesn’t?” he says, cynically. And then I remind him that thousands of people doing the right thing adds up. It’s the domino effect at work.

I’m no Pollyanna. I’m just feeling thankful today for the people who help my world run smoothly. We all have enough to worry about without having extra bits on our plate.

This week, I’m going to be sure to tell the people who do their thing and do it well how much I appreciate them. The world needs more of that right now. And yes, I’m just one person.

But maybe it’ll be catching.

50 Comments Add yours

  1. Patsy Porco says:

    I’m so glad you found me so that I could find you! The next time your son tells you his actions don’t matter, tell him the starfish story. https://www.thestarfishchange.org/starfish-tale

    1. candidkay says:

      Oh yes. He has heard that one several times before from me:). That’s an oldie but a goodie. Thank you for reading and commenting! Looking forward to connecting in the ether.

  2. Jane Lurie says:

    A delightful read, Kristine. Your pertinent anecdotes really ring true and it’s refreshing that you notice these things about the people around you. A reminder to have gratitude for the people in our daily lives. And also, I would add, to let them know. 🙂

    1. candidkay says:

      Yes, Jane! It’s still letting them know that is the trick, right? Makes a world of difference and it takes such little effort on our part. Thanks for reading and for taking the time to comment😀.

  3. Masha says:

    Such a beautiful post. In the last job I had, I was in charge, it always bothered me how staff would be so non caring, I always had to remind them not to throw liquid into the garbage can under their desks or to empty their coffee cups into the sink and throw the cup away in the staff lounge. Beautiful reminder here, we each are just one person, but imagine what we could do one person at a time. Love this, thank you xo

    1. candidkay says:

      It’s nice to be in charge but not when you have to parent adults who aren’t your kids, right? Glad you cared:). And thank you for the kind words!

  4. Luanne says:

    From your lips to God’s ears. I wish more people noticed the things in their own lives that you’ve written about here. I see too many people taking good service for granted and refusing to thank others. A post like yours gives me hope! 🙂

    1. candidkay says:

      Glad it gives you hope, Luanne:). A little gratitude goes a long way . . .

      1. Luanne says:

        It sure does.

  5. Roy McCarthy says:

    Well said Kristine. These are the people who facilitate our days, who keep the small but important things moving along. They are rarely appreciated. We have a cleaner at our country museum here. A couple of hours each morning, speaks little English, grumbles away to herself and is gone by 10am when visitors start to arrive. She is hardly noticed or appreciated. Now with her health failing she is about to return to her home country Portugal. I’m happy to say that someone thought to start a collection for her and a card for our comments. She deserves much more though.

    1. candidkay says:

      I’m so glad to hear of the collection, but I agree with you, Roy–making her feel appreciated during the many days prior to her leaving would have been better, right? So many people ease our path–and they’re invisible unless something is awry. We can do better.

  6. What a great post! Thank you .. There are so many wonderful, caring people! And you are one of them 🙂

  7. mydangblog says:

    Such a powerful post. Individuals like this really do change the world a little bit at a time.

    1. candidkay says:

      So true! And really, each of us has the potential to be that individual. That’s what is so powerful to me.

  8. Dale says:

    Beauty of a post, Kristine. I have always admired those who take what they do seriously and with pride. Doesn’t matter what it is. A simple ‘thank you’ to them is so easy yet so many people don’t bother.
    You keep being you!

    1. candidkay says:

      😊 Thank you, Dale.

  9. Well said. I’ve come to know there’s great power in focusing on gratitude. It brings more things into our lives to be grateful for. It smooths out the bumps in life.

    1. candidkay says:

      It certainly does! Hard to focus on some days but easier when it becomes a habit.

  10. Kristine, this post needs to be mandatory reading for literally everyone. It’s beautiful and necessary. Nothing infuriates me more than seeing someone being cruel to another person simply doing their job. There are so many things people expect or take for granted without realizing how difficult it is to make that happen. Blood, sweat and tears get poured into ensuring those things ARE available. My office job right now is beyond stressful, but no job has ever been as hard as when I was serving tables. My god, I so appreciate everyone and their contribution – I wish everyone did. Times are hard; the least we can do is encourage one another and be grateful. Everyone is struggling and doing their very best. Hope you have a wonderful week!

    1. candidkay says:

      Thank you:). And I’m with you on the waiting tables bit–I did that for just a summer after college and it was eye-opening to say the least. And right now, I see these videos of people railing against retail employees due to mask mandates and it just sickens me. We all need to give each other grace and space–especially right now.

  11. Kathy says:

    Really gorgeous story that illustrates how one person can really make the world a better place. One action at a time.

    1. candidkay says:

      Thanks, Kathy:). For reading and for commenting. I always appreciate your thoughts!

  12. markbialczak says:

    Yes, Kay, I do notice those that make a difference with their trying hard and caring hard. And I try to be one of them, too.

    1. candidkay says:

      Thanks for that, Mark! You’re part of the wave of good.

  13. Greetings. Good, fair-minded people who take their responsibilities seriously are to be respected. They help to make the world a better place. Have a good week. See ya!

    1. candidkay says:

      Amen to that. Unsung heroes🙂.

  14. Jaya says:

    Superb post. Reminded me of a cobbler in our market who did his work so well he could be called an artist. He was surprised when we thanked him. I , too, believe in thanking everybody for their services/help. Where would we be without all the help we get throughout our day?! Also agree about each one doing our bit – little drops an ocean make.

    1. candidkay says:

      I love your example. Sometimes it’s a cobbler, sometimes a cleaning person, sometimes the person who helps us at a bank. It all matters.

  15. Anne P says:

    I absolutely agree with you! I worked almost 50 yrs in various positions but I can easily recall some of the cleaning ladies with fondness. They had a hard job & were often underappreciated. The jobs of many people are considered beneath some but they are the cement that holds together the rest of the world. Where would we be without them? We are getting a taste of that now with covid as businesses are affected because those “menial” jobs are not being filled they have to reduce hours & make other changes for lack of those workers. You are also correct in that they can help you get through the day. Next time you drive through to get coffee, fast food or whatever compare how you feel from a friendly, helpful worker to a worker who is gruff & crabby. Thank you for the post & reminding us all how valuable every worker is.

    1. candidkay says:

      It’s so true. When all goes well, we rarely think about it. But we all know how we feel when it doesn’t go well or someone is rude and how we feel then. I think we need to pay attention to the people who grease the wheels of life so that all runs smoothly and pleasantly.

  16. Miriam says:

    Wonderful message and I absolutely agree with you. It’s the ultimate ripple effect, those small acts of kindness, the smiles and gestures that says “ I care”. And I agree, it’s those people doing small jobs well that make this world a better place. I try and acknowledge those people too whenever I can, the cleaners, garbage guys, customer service check out chicks so they know they’re important too. Loved your post!

    1. candidkay says:

      Thanks, Miriam! I am a big believer in the ripple effect. So many wonderful things have happened in the world because of it.

  17. suemclaren24 says:

    Absolute thumbs up on this one! Thank you for calling attention to the little things.

  18. Thank you for this wonderful post.

    1. candidkay says:

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Carol!

      1. It was truly a pleasure. 🙂

  19. Thanks for noticing these people Kristine and how our small acts done with care can make a big impact. Let’s make some waves!

    1. candidkay says:

      I’m sure I’m not alone in the noticing. I just think so many of us forget to tell them that they’re appreciated.

  20. Jane Fritz says:

    Kristine, this piece is exceptional. Its message should be shouted from the rooftops, and yet the way in which you convey this oh, so, important message leaves me with a feeling of peace rather than shouting, as well as hope. Thank you. I hope you don’t mind if I reblog this soon.

    1. candidkay says:

      That’s very kind of you, Jane! I’m so glad it left you feeling peaceful! And the reblog–thank you ever so much!

  21. Thank you for such an uplifting post, Kristine. There have been so many people you describe in my life, and I was always grateful for them. I had some amazing chats with folks while burning the midnight oil. Thanks again.

    1. candidkay says:

      I’m so glad you did, John:). Something magical happens when the hustle and bustle fades and you can connect in the quiet.

  22. willedare says:

    I very much agree with you. I used to work late a lot at my old job (it was quiet and mostly uninterrupted time in which I could accomplish large projects…) and became well acquainted with the man who used to empty the trash in our buildings. I also like to thank folks like customer service reps and cashiers for showing up at work and then helping me book tickets or buy groceries. Some folks are surprised and even put off by being thanked and respond with some variation of “I’m just doing my job; it’s what I’m paid to do…) But it doesn’t stop me from thanking them for their service. Yes. Let’s do what we can in our daily lives to make the world a bit more respectful, kind, grateful, patient and collaborative — one interaction at a time!

    1. candidkay says:

      Why does it not surprise me at all that you thank them? I somehow knew that. I hope it’s catching . . .

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