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.