If you could only sense how important you are to the lives of those you meet; how important you can be to the people you may never even dream of. There is something of yourself that you leave at every meeting with another person.-Fred Rogers
One summer I worked as part of the cleaning crew at a Conference Center. In addition to myself the crew included my friend Rachel, an ex-convict and a young man with mental disabilities. Obviously Rachel and I were thought of quite highly. Despite the boys out-of-the-mainstream pedigree we had fun as a group. The ex-con taught us self-defense using magic markers in place of pocket knives and in our down time we spent the day quoting Beavis and Butthead and listening to 80s mixtapes. Ocasionally if it was super slow, we’d lock a hotel room door, crank up Welcome to the Jungle and jump on the beds.
The work however sucked. Even though I was 19 and energetic, cleaning thirty hotel rooms a day is no joke. The first bed you make is easy; but by the time you’re on the thirtieth your back aches. Wet towels are gross and heavy and people are quite frankly, disgusting. Twelve years later I still have an irrational aversion to making beds.
I’m glad though that I had that job because it taught me that there are so many service jobs that are much harder than they look. I learned to think about the line cook on his feet all day and the hotel maid whose back aches from bending over and cleaning for hours on end.
When I was cleaning hotel rooms ocasionaly people would leave us meager tips of dollar or fifty cents. We would collect these and once a week we’d buy smoothies. Smoothie day was a good day. The smoothies gave us enough to energy to jump on the beds for Welcome to the Jungle and to jam to Footloose. It wasn’t just the smoothie though, it was what they represented, that there were some people who bothered to recognize the hard work we did.
When I was in Baltimore a few weeks ago I was almost delirious from a sinus infection. Sickness always makes me both emotionally volatile and sentimental and when I walked into my hotel room to find it pristinely clean after a long work day with a splitting headache I was overcome. I walked straight back out of my room found the maid next door and blurted out somewhat bizzarely “Thank you so much for cleaning my room. You did such a good job and I really appreciate it.”
I wish you could have seen her smile.
My point? The things you do matter. The small kindnesses you take the time to express can make a difference. Smoothie day would brighten our spirits after cleaning yet another disgusting bathroom and I like to think that my thank you put a little spring in the hotel maids step. So please, don’t ever think what you do doesn’t matter. You have so much power to make the world a better place, one small courtesy at a time.