Only Anecdotal

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Posts Tagged ‘gratitude


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The hospital across the street from my house has had a white tent in front of the emergency room for the last few weeks. A strange sight in normal times, but these are not normal times, of course.

If all of this had happened five years ago, I might still be going in to visit people, as I did at least two or three days a week back then, but I doubt I would have had that sort of access. I would instead be trying to telephone, or skype, if possible, and otherwise I would be worrying about the nurses and social workers I knew there, as well as all the people I could no longer visit. A phone call never took the place of going in person back then, and I imagine it still feels lacking in a world of people who often suffer as much from loneliness as from the illness they are fighting. I am sure that the barrier to touch is one of the most difficult parts of this evil virus that has taken us now, the necessary disconnection.

Someone has put up a sign in the parking lot: “Heroes park here.” And indeed, they do. I see them walking back and forth from their jobs as they always have, and they have always been heroes, long before they were deemed “essential employees” in the corona-lexicon.

It is obvious that the people on the front line of illness are essential now, but the rest of the world that keeps those of us safe and fed at home share the badge of essential in these days. Suddenly, gas station attendants, delivery workers, and grocery store cashiers have become important, as it dawns on each and every one of us just how lost we would be if they all just stopped doing their job. In my neighborhood, it is not just the hospital that keep the traffic flowing; it is the many workers, whose landscaping, painting, and construction trucks still leave every morning and come back late. They are essential, and they are busy.

This is not to say that we are always treating them so well. This morning, as my daughter approached the early morning checkout line after a triumphant quest for toilet paper, the man in front of her could not stop himself from screaming at an employee, who had been working hours before the early-morning senior hours, I am sure. What good did it do for him to curse loudly about the inadequate supply of hand sanitizer?

Ah yes, we can vent our frustration at this whole situation. We will probably snap once in a while at someone who does not deserve it. We may drive a little rudely, despite the relative lack of traffic. And we can still demean those who manage the tasks that we just do not want to do. I dare say that this sort of entitlement is a bad habit that took root in the heart of many people long before this current crisis.

Of course, many rise to the crisis, and remember to be thankful. We can order take-out and hope the neighborhood restaurant can stay afloat, and we can tip the Uber Eats driver a little extra for his willingness to risk his life in an attempt to maintain some income. We can have our kids draw pictures for the staff at Grandma’s assisted living. It is nice to do these things, to be generous, and to teach our children to be kind. But will we still remember when all this is over? Will we remember that these so-called “unskilled” workers were once so essential?


Written by Only Anecdotal

27 Mar 2020 at 7:37am


with 2 comments

I was recently reminded of a quote attributed to C.S. Lewis: “Isn’t it funny how day by day nothing changes but, when we look back everything is different?”

This quote has reminded me, in very real and tangible ways, of my own gratitude, the thanks that I owe to so many people and circumstances in my life. My children, my friends, my community.

In the last two weeks, we have indeed seen enormous changes, too, perhaps the culmination of so many small steps. Not all do I face with gratitude. I still cannot fathom the tragedy in Paris. Not yet. Not sure I ever want to.

But other changes in life I have considered, and am right now as I contemplate the last year and a half from a slightly more philosophical viewpoint, thinking over the perspective I gained moving from one world to another.

When I began working at the Consulate, the manager who hired me had described the role as “social services for Canadians in the US”. This was largely true, and as I saw it then, largely what I had been doing in the field–more like the trenches–for several years prior. I had worked around illness then, and disability, and dire situations that were often chronic; though, when I saw them, the need was indeed critical. I held a hand, shared a pot of tea, sat and listened, all the while wishing for a figurative hose to put out fires that had often smouldered for years before erupting in flame. But too often, my only defence for my clients was a squirt gun, at best, and always, always,  I wished for a magic wand.

I discovered quickly that a few things were quite different in the consular world. First of all, I cannot speak for the whole of the Canadian government, but from the start (my interview featured a test, by golly), it was clear to me that excellence was an expectation. That is it. You prove yourself, then keep working at that standard. I hit a huge learning curve of regulations and details, and I simply had to know them. I never even questioned that, and I enjoyed the challenge.

This had always been true, but now, rather than simply holding this knowledge as advantageous in my work, I felt the weight of responsibility much more. Was it the security clearance? Was it the various exams, and permissions, and processes? Was it the diplomatic cachet? Bilingualism? I am not sure, except that the culture supported high quality work. It made me  happy, too, to feel I was rewarded in perhaps subtle ways, and most of all from our clients, for giving it my all.

The above C.S. Lewis quote came from my manager, who spoke at a lovely party held on my last day at the Consulate. My term has ended there, and staff who had been on leave have all made their ways back into the work I had the great opportunity to live in depth. I will miss everyone. There were some very long snowy days riding the commuter rail, days when I was first learning all the various details of creating a document that for my entire life has been my symbol of freedom and adventure… and became as I saw it also a very real ticket to access, connection, and security. Winter. The very real lack of control we have over so many aspects of life on earth, and the many, many ways we learn to maneuver and thrive and love in spite of it, sometimes because of it. It was about the same everyday, in most ways. A few surprises, but the same walk to the station, people I met along the way, same roads, same tracks, the same gorgeous view of the South End, and the same kind faces who greeted me and shared the space everyday. It became natural after a while, as it does, and fun, and amazingly satisfying when there was a problem, a puzzle to work out, and we could do something truly meaningful, even small.

But now, looking back at where this all started, I see that Lewis was right. Everything truly is different.

And it continues, and onward to the next adventures, projects, my great desire to connect, to hear more stories and meet more people, to create something beautiful, useful, better in this imperfect, fabulous world. It is a wonderful life. Happy Thanksgiving.



Written by Only Anecdotal

24 Nov 2015 at 2:57pm