Saturday, May 17, 2014

Humility


Dear Reader: I write to better understand my experiences of life; I share with the hope that my words will touch something inside you, and together we will remember that we all walk through life with love and loss, joy and sorrow, hope and despair, faith and uncertainty.

NOTE: I will never write about upsetting details without a warning.

I find a kind of grace in looking for an unmet need and meeting it. There is a right-ness to this kind of task, regardless of how humble, regardless of whether it is noticed.


Many years ago I managed a volunteer program. Several days a week I supervised a group of volunteers whose job required that they be outside in all kinds of weather for several hours. They referred to me as Grand PooBah and bowed down to me, called me Queen of All, things like that. But one of my greatest pleasures was in fetching hot coffee for them; and I referred to it that way, fetching coffee, a task traditionally assigned to women in subservient administrative roles.

When I started another job, also management level, I looked around to see where there was a need – not in my department, but in the office in general. I noticed that some anonymous person always washed the dirty mugs and dishes we all left behind in the sink, and stacked them up in the dish drainer – where they stacked higher and higher until they would topple over. Finding my unmet need, in the mornings when I arrived I started to take the dishes from the drainer and put them away in the cupboard above. Just as quietly and unceremoniously as the mystery dishwasher, I found a way to serve. It was a modest and simple task, but it served a need and it made me happy.

During my fourteen months spent as a park aide earning minimum wage for the State of Washington, the mainstay of my job was cleaning restrooms. Since that was my job, I decided to do it very well. I cleaned places that no one else did: I made the toilet bowl and sink undersides sparkle; I scoured the built up scum in the sinks and on the walls under the hand dryers. I noticed the difference when I hadn’t been working for a couple of days; the restrooms no longer gleamed. I knew that campers would not necessarily notice, but that was ok. I was still making their camping experience better. And that made me feel better.

Later as a park ranger I felt proud to wear the badge and iconic flat hat. I carried the responsibility of my firearm and law enforcement authority with gravity. And I delighted at opportunities to engage children in the wonders of the natural world. But through it all, the task I found most satisfying - in its simple, meditative, modesty - was “litter patrol.” I did not always have time to stop and pick up cigarette butts, chicken bones, gum, gum wrappers, and the amazing array of objects that people think belong on the ground; but when I did I always felt satisfaction at returning pieces of the park back to nature.
  
My neighbor two doors down died a few weeks ago. Friends have been leaving bouquets and potted flowers on her doorstep. Her parents live out of state, and have not yet come to claim her belongings and empty out her apartment. It has been quite windy recently, and one evening I came home from work to find a big vase toppled, the water spilled out of it, and flowers scattered and dying. I couldn’t bear the thought of her friends coming to leave more flowers, and eventually her parents, and seeing this neglected and withering shrine. I got some scissors and a pitcher of fresh water, and sat down on her porch. Slowly, mindfully, I trimmed off wilted flower heads and reassembled a fresh bouquet, then set it up inside a small stand that would prevent it from tipping again. Every few days I go and freshen up the water, clean up the bouquet and any new flowers. Her friends and parents won’t ever know that someone did this; they probably won’t even think about it. And that’s ok. I just want to make sure they don’t wonder why her neighbors cared so little that they let the bouquets scatter and decay.

I’ve been writing my blog for nearly a year now. Through my writing I feel the same sense of satisfaction I have felt from the tasks above – it has a right-ness to it. In this case the need is in me, but when I hear from readers that my words echo feelings they have, I am deeply gratified. This gratification is juxtaposed with my unglamorous temporary job, which I often can’t even manage to go to because I just can’t face the world. My ego withers under what I perceive as the judgmental stares of my coworkers who also work unglamorous jobs, but who manage to get to work every day. And while my blog does not offer glory, it does make me feel proud. It is mine, it is born from me, it is my way of turning my confusion and love and pain and passion and fright and joy into something tangible, something I can share with you.

The unmet need was my feelings of isolation needing to be expressed. Meeting that need through my writing in itself has been satisfying. To discover in the process that I am not alone, I am with all of you, we are all here living this life together, has changed everything.



Dear Reader, please consider posting your comments and questions below. I would love to hear from you! Please let your friends know about my blog. And thank you for visiting!

6 comments:

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    1. oh goodness you've made me cry! I love you too!

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  2. Kjerstin, how would I subscribe to your blog?

    You just precisely described my journey with an organization that we each have mostly left. My introduction to you comes via the site hosted by Roger C. I am so grateful to meet you, Kjerstin, and to hear better my own voice while listening to yours. Your truths and the way you express them are a bird singing to me.

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    1. Anori, thank you so much!!! There are several ways to subscribe to my blog, most of which you can do right from the site. Just under these comments it says "follow by email," enter your email address and submit. I promise, all you will ever receive is an automatic email of each blog post (which you can later cancel any time). Just below that is my Facebook page which you can like, and I always let folks know when there's a new post (although I'm not confident that FB always shows those??). If you're on Twitter my account is just below that, you can follow me there. You can sign up for Bloglovin just below that, which is one of many sites that allow you to follow blogs you enjoy. Below that the G+ will allow you to follow me if you have a Google (Gmail) account. And finally, you can send me a private message through the Facebook page with your email address. I'll add it to others and I usually send out an email (all addresses are hidden, so it's private) when I have accrued 2 or 3 posts to share). Namaste!

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  3. seva, the act of selfless service. When you told me about the flowers last week when we talked on the phone, it gave me the chills. Those are the things that make life great. Thanks for doing that for her, her family, and the rest of us. We all live in a better world because of the countless little things people do like that everyday.

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    1. Ah, Chris, you have become one of my greatest teachers. And there is no greater gift a parent can receive. I love you.

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