You Just Never Know ...
We’ve all heard the adage, “Life is uncertain … eat dessert first”. This week the Mountain Farmgirl got an all-too-vivid glimpse of how true this actually is. Join her as she considers how we all impact the world – for better or for worse -- and how brief some of our journeys might turn out to be, in “You Just Never Know…”
In our brief time on this earth, we should ever be mindful that our centers of influence have the ability to impact others both far and wide. This is an obvious fact for celebrities and people who are generally in the public eye. But it’s equally true for the rest of us who lead quiet, more private lives as well. The ripples of our thoughts, actions and our attitudes can be far-reaching indeed!
I shared a teachable moment about this in the car with my kids a few years ago. It involved a run-of-the-mill sort of incident, the type that we might all encounter every day and never give a second thought. But this one has stayed with me ever since and given me plenty of food for thought. On that particular day we were embarking on a little trip and all feeling rather on top of the world. As we stopped at a convenience store to get some gas, one of the kids came inside with me to check out, and the man behind the counter was an employer’s worst nightmare. I mean this guy was a wretched, miserable old dude! There are, unfortunately, far too many times that we encounter poor service as the norm these days, and almost come to accept it, if not expect it. But this guy noticeably stood out to the point we all talked about him after we got back into the car. What a 'downer' meeting him had been! As we tried to imagine why he could be so unhappy as to make us temporarily feel that way too, the kids had some good ideas as they tried mentally to ‘walk in his shoes’. Hypothetical ideas ranged from an unhappy marriage, a serious medical diagnosis, to being broke … all things that could make even the best of us extremely melancholy. But then one of the kids had a thought that was not quite so obvious.
“Maybe he hates his job because it’s not very interesting or important”. Now here was an idea that was a diamond in the rough, and worthy of further discussion. Teachable moment, indeed! As we drove away from the pump I jumped on it in a flash, because I firmly believe that ALL of life is an opportunity, and everything is important. Sure, there are some dead end jobs that may be stop gaps along the way to bigger and better things in all of our futures. But everything we do is an opportunity to make the world a better place; the people we meet feel better; and a way to learn and educate ourselves, making us better people.
Nicely said, in theory that is. Not so easy to accept when it hits close to home. For instance, I smile when people tell me that they dream of being innkeepers someday, because there are days when it just isn’t all that sexy! Toilets overflow. Phones ring at midnight. Most meals are interrupted by the front desk bell which beckons us literally 24 hours a day. Some people are unpleasable ... a few downright unpleasant. Sometimes I don’t want to get up to make those blueberry muffins and cinnamon rolls every morning at 5 am. And when one or more of these events hits me on a ‘down’ day, even I start becoming like the gloomy old geezer at the convenience store, grumbling to myself that I don’t like my ‘job’ and I should be doing something more meaningful at this stage in my life. Truth be told, much of innkeeping (at least the part the public doesn’t see) IS so mundane!
Well, when those thoughts start bouncing around my balmy little brain, it is a wake-up call for a major attitude adjustment! Because an innkeeper, like everyone else in any profession, has important work to do, too, and it can be one of the most fulfilling things in the world. I have the ability to make people happy. In any of a hundred different ways, I can change the world one guest at a time. And nobody, not even my lesser self, can say THAT isn’t important!
I am reminded of the time about 10 years ago when I drove with my sister to take her son to school. The school didn’t have a bus system, so if the kids couldn’t get their on their own steam, the parents had to drive them. There was a huge line of cars as we approached; I mean probably close to a block long! Believe me, it was long enough to make all these sleepy, coffee-deprived parents facing another day of work at the office be REALLY annoyed to be sitting there for so long. But there was an older, retired man directing traffic as each car let their kids off at the curb. A common scene all over the country I suppose … except that this man had a gift, and in over a decade, (although I don’t know his name or anything about him), I have never forgotten him. He was one of the happiest people I have ever met, making everyone smile and feel good – no … feel GREAT … during that brief encounter! For some parents it may have been the only time they would feel truly happy that entire day! Now would you ordinarily say that a traffic guard is an “important” job? Probably not, but this man was changing the world one car at a time, and few people could ever be more successful at it, no matter what profession they may be in.
How many people have you met like this? Like me, you can maybe think of a few – not MANY, but perhaps one or two. For me there was an ancient old lady on a playground when I was a toddler. I can still picture her: wrinkled, smelling of perfume and wearing too much rouge. She had a big fur coat and an old lady hat. I never saw her again, but I remember her because she was so kind to me. I think of her once in a while, even though I couldn’t have been more than 3 years old when I met her! Then there was a man I saw on the news when I was in high school. He had been a passenger on an airplane that crash landed in a river. He had silver hair and a goatee, and he was helping passengers get out of the ice cold water. He never made it out himself, but he was such a gentleman, putting the needs of others before himself.
It doesn’t take such a life or death sacrifice to make a difference in this world. It just takes kindness, a listening ear, a smile, or whatever your personal gift may be. I knew a couple once who was searching desperately to make the world a better place. They traveled to Africa, to India, to Hawaii to try to make a difference … but always looking ‘out there’ somewhere to do it ... and never quite finding it. They didn’t know that it can happen NOW … RIGHT HERE … without ever taking a single step. And this brings me to the whole point of this story, and and the shock that prompted it.
Last week in our local paper there was a small news clip about a local woman who had gone ice skating in the rink at the town park with her family. She had fallen on the ice, and was unconscious for about 5 minutes, so an ambulance was called. When she woke up she was mostly just embarrassed and laughed it off, but went to the hospital to appease her family. And you know what? She died in the hospital. The article didn’t mention any names, as it was too soon after the accident, but the next day it revealed that it was a 56 year old woman named Cindy S., who worked as the Front End Manager at our local grocery store. The area is in shock.
I’m guessing that most people, myself included, didn’t really ‘know’ Cindy beyond her name, if even that. But then again, everybody knew her. She was the smiling face that was always helping out the cashiers at the various checkout lines. She’d bag food if it was needed; she’d help override a register mistake; take care of customer service questions; train new staff; address your problem if you had one. She did everything … and she ALWAYS had a smile and a good word for everybody. ALWAYS. Few people like to shop; fewer still like to stand in line, and then empty their wallets at the register … but regardless of that, and the unpleasant fact that you would soon have to lug all your groceries out to the car and again into your house … If you were lucky to have contact with Cindy, you left feeling that you had a pleasant experience and feeling better than when you came in. Cindy had the ‘Magic’, and she gave it away as freely as she did her beautiful smile. It makes me wonder, “Did I ever smile back at her in a way that would make HER day?” I honestly can’t remember … We often take so much for granted in life … and we can get so rushed and busy that we don’t always ‘give back’ they way we would want …
Our community has been in shock over this tragic loss. Three memorial tables were set up in the front of the store, where dozens of very large poster boards were set up for people to write messages on to her and her family. It makes me teary to even think about it, because this one person, who had what could be considered a very mundane ‘job’, impacted SO MANY people’s lives for the better. The thousands of comments, the flowers and gifts left for her family are visible proof of this. They are also powerful reminders that despite such things as youth, good health and financial security, life IS uncertain. How will we impact the world while we are here? One smile at a time ... starting right NOW! You just never know …
Until next time, Mountain Bounty, Mountain Blessings from
Cathi, The Mountain Farmgirl