Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Smile

A customer sang to himself while completing his transaction at my till. I said you must be enjoying your day. Oh, he said, I always sing—drives my wife crazy. I am just a happy guy.
I was appreciative of this and wanted to let him know. I thought that a brief story on how singing enlivened my own life might suffice. I said, you know, when I started this job I didn’t want to be here… I was angry, in fact, it was not…. He interrupted: oh, but this job is not so bad… the people who own it are good people.
Sure, I said, but what I wanted to say is that when I started… He interrupted again: it’s a good place to work. It’s a fine place.
Yes, for sure, I said and then, before he could interrupt me a third time, I rushed through to the end of my story: and singing is the only thing that got me through those bad days. But he wasn’t listening. He wasn’t even feigning interest. His eyes were glazed over; his smile complacent. I tried to find a message or hidden meaning to his expression but I realized there was none. The smile and singing were his barriers against life.
Later that day I spoke with one of the purchasers about a certain de-icer. On its label was a precaution against using it on new concrete and decorative brick. I asked him which was a better product: the de-icer or road salt? The salt is corrosive, he said, the de-icer is best.
But the label infers that it, too, is corrosive, I said. He smiled a smile that I couldn’t quite read and said: Salt is corrosive.
Yes, I hear you, I replied, but the label…
Salt, he interrupted, is corrosive. He was smiling as he said this, a thin sort of smile that did not quite reach his eyes. I understood it then, could finally read the lips that only mimicked pleasure. This smile was also a barrier, but one that came with a message: I am not going to let on that I do not know the answer. Stop wasting my time; just do your job so I can do mine.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Picking up the Pieces

It’s been an interesting winter. Without trying to sound too melodramatic, I’ve been going through what one might call a crisis of faith, a shaking of foundations. I won’t go into the details but, in short, I was filled with tension: angry and resentful. Little made sense as years of believing certain things were called into question. It was unpleasant, uncomfortable and destabilizing. I am coming out of the tail end of it now and, while humbled by the insights, I am also relieved to know that at the core of who I am, I still believe in interconnectness and magic, or, more specifically, that life is magic. Everything else is up for question.
In December I wrote a series of blogs in praise of the power of words. I recounted how the books I choose to read tend to answer or be a salve to whatever issue I am consciously or unconsciously facing.  Once again, I wasn’t failed by my inner literary compass.  Primo Levy’s memoir, Survival in Auschwitz, got me through the dark moments of December. Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern, helped finish the job of shedding light.  
I wrote about Levi’s book on December 15. There is much more to say on that topic and perhaps I will share more in another blog. Below, however, is a short dialogue from Night Circus. It occurs near the end of the book between a young man and an illusionist.  I read these words and the final pieces clicked into place.
 “But I am not … special … not the way they are. I’m not anyone important.”
“I know … You’re not destined or chosen, I wish I could tell you that you were if that would make it easier, but it’s not true. You’re in the right place at the right time, and you care enough to do what needs to be done. Sometimes that’s enough.”
Who among us are destined or chosen? We can make up stories after the fact but, in truth, there are a myriad of paths and infinite number of choices with every move we make. Sometimes, maybe all times, we just have to care enough to do what needs to be done.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

2012: A Year of Learning

I was talking with an acquaintance the other day when he suggested that it must be hard working at the big box store that I do because of the difference in consciousness. The implication was that because I had done so much “work” on myself, it would be hard relating to my colleagues. At first I was angered: how arrogant; how pompous. Then I was embarrassed. It wasn’t too many months ago that I thought something of the same. I told him how I felt. We talked it out but I don’t think I convinced him—when one feels they are on top or, in this case, more “aware” than others, what desire have they to change their story? If it was just him, I wouldn’t mind so much but the problem is he is not alone in his opinion.  As I said above, I was under similar assumptions until I had to face my biases left , right, front and centre. 2012 was definitely my year of learning. 
So, I want to acknowledge my teachers of 2012 who thankfully helped to bring me down a notch or two.
My colleagues at work who showed me that just because one works at a minimum wage job doesn’t mean they are unaware, not smart or lacking in some way or another. That being “conscious” has many faces and sometimes it is just about helping someone laugh when you are both treading water in an attempt to stay afloat.
The old high school buddies and past associates who happened upon me whilst at work. Their lack of judgment and genuine happiness at seeing me (regardless of what I was doing) taught me humility and the grace to handle future encounters.
The customers who laughed at my jokes and shared profound moments. They taught me that when one is present, time shared is measured in quality, not length.
And those who showed me in countless ways that the gift of seeing and hearing another has infinite and joyful reverberations, however subtle; however bright and bold.   
Sometimes I want, so whole heartedly, to have all my lessons be done with—to crawl into a hole and cry “enough!”   But no one ever said that being human was easy: our choices lead us into places we never imagined or wanted to go in our idyllic dreams of youth.  These teachers of 2012 opened the door for a more compassionate and self aware me to enter. And to them, I give thanks.