A Life-Lessons Story by Chana Klein
It happened to Adam, the first man, to Joseph, to Moshe, to Miriam, to King Saul, to Ruth, and to so many in our Tanach (Bible).
It happened, or will happen, to each of us, at some time in our lives.
Change of Status
What will happen? – A change of status, a change of job, a change of standing in an office, in the community, or in the world.
Sometimes it’s a change from prestige to low social standing.
Sometimes it’s a money thing, going from wealth to financial instability, or a health thing, going from health to infirmity, or a social thing, going from popularity to infamy.
Of course, it also goes the other direction, as well, from low status to high.
It’s different for each of us, likely determined as our soul journey unfolds under the auspices of the Almighty.
The only thing that never changes is that things change.
What can we do with that?
What can we do when it happens to us?
Years ago, keeping my house as clean as I wanted was getting more difficult for me as I struggled with illness. So, I prayed for a house-cleaning person. I asked Heaven for someone who speaks only Spanish, who will not rush to another job on the same day, and who would work with thoroughness.
That person appeared on the first inquiring phone call. We talked before she began, and then again while she was working.
She told me about her life. A few years ago, she had a good job in an office in her home country. But then with the political situation there, she and her family lost everything. They migrated to New Jersey. Her husband got a job in a NY hotel and he suggested that she get work, cleaning houses.
Then, she told me about the day that her adult son visited her.
Upon seeing his dear mother cleaning houses, he cried.
And I cried inside . . .
A Change in Status . . .
Clearly this is a job of lower status than she had before, in her home country.
Words came out of my mouth, in Spanish, “But you don’t know how you are going to touch the lives of those who are in the homes that you clean.”
I had in my mind how she already seemed to be putting her personal touch on her work in my house. She was certainly touching my life, as she put her heart into each room she cleaned.
Just a Bagger!
I remembered the story of Johnny by Barbara Glanz in The Simple Truths of Service.
Having seen it on a video, I shared with her my own version of that story.
Johnny was a 19-year-old supermarket bagger who had Downs Syndrome. He had attended an employee sales workshop given by Barbara Glanz.
After the workshop, Barbara shares, Johnny called her to tell her that he liked what she talked about. But he did not think he could do anything special for the customers.
“I’m just a bagger,” he told her.
Thought for the Day
But a few days later he decided that each night when he got home he would find a thought for the day that he liked. He decided, also, that if he were not able to find a thought that he liked, he would think of one himself. Each day he decided on a thought that he wanted to share. His dad helped him enter it six times on one page in the computer. Every night they printed fifty pages of those thoughts.
Johnny cut out each quote and signed his name on the back of each one.
“Then,” he continued, “I put them in a paper bag that I keep beside me at work. When I finish bagging someone’s groceries, I put my “Thought for the Day” in their bag and say thanks for shopping with us.”
Most people might feel that a job as a bagger is of low status and not very important.
But Johnny added his personal touch, something that came naturally for him to do, something from his heart.
And the reaction he got….
The store manager was making his rounds. He got to the front of the store where the cashiers were working. The line at Johnny’s checkout was three times longer than anyone else’s. The line went all the way down the frozen food aisle.
The manager got concerned. He loudly called out, “Get more cashiers out here. Get more lanes open!”
He approached Johnny’s line and began telling the people to go on another line.
But no one would move. One customer, after the other, explained, “No it’s okay. We want to be in Johnny’s lane. We want his “Thought for The Day.“
Johnny was delighting the customers. His manager was joyous.
Mrs. Smith walked to where the manager was standing. She took his hand to get his attention. “I used to shop at your store only once a week. But now I come in every time I pass by because I want to get Johnny’s ‘Thought for the Day’.”
The manager felt a lump in his throat.
“Who do you think became the most important person in the whole store?” he told Barbara. “Johnny, of course.”
And a few months later, the store manager called Barbara again.
“Johnny has transformed our store. Now, when the floral department has a broken flower or unused corsage, they go out on the floor and find an elderly woman or a little girl and pin it on them.”
And there’s more….
“One of our butchers loves Snoopy. He bought thousands of Snoopy stickers and each time that he wraps a piece of meat, he puts a sticker on it.
Each of our cashiers now has their own personal signature of something from their heart, their own personal touch.
Everyone is having a lot of fun creating memories. Our customers are talking about us in a good way. They are coming back and bringing their friends.”
Johnny, the bagger’s, personal touch spread throughout the whole store. He turned his bagger job into the most prestigious one in the store with his personal touch.
For us, we don’t know why our lives sometimes change or why we are put in some of the places that we are.
I think it was during the years 2003 – 2004 when I had many hospitalizations. This one was for several weeks because of a serious infection near a recent surgical site for which I needed daily IV antibiotics.
I was extremely frustrated. I would get home and feel like I was recovering and getting my life back and then… boom… another strike of illness would come upon me, requiring me to leave home, and live in a hospital bed.
It made no sense to me, in the large scheme of things that I would be taken away from my work like that. I was helping people in my work. How could my being in a hospital bed be helping anyone?
Into the second week, I got a visit from the hospital rabbi. I had not seen him before. He asked how I was doing. I think it was a day when I was the most frustrated and so I ranted about how I can’t understand that I am taken away from my work like this so often. Why does God keep putting me in the hospital?
I wanted to know.
The rabbi’s eyes opened wider as he moved his chair closer to my bed. He lowered his voice, telling me that he believes it was an act of God that made him visit me today. He had just gotten out of the hospital himself, just a few hours before visiting me. He was feeling exactly as I had described.
He was amazed that he was hearing me say that and that I was asking his own questions, which he dared not ask.
He confided that he had an illness that required frequent hospitalizations and it pains him greatly to leave his work.
For some reason, he felt it was very important for him to hear me express my own frustration, thoughts, and questions.
My hospital stay ended a few days after that. I don’t know if I was supposed to be there and feel that way just so that this rabbi could hear me express it. We don’t always know why. We don’t always understand.
But what we can do is give it our authentic best, even if that best is to rant, rave and question as I did. The rabbi seemed to need to hear that.
The cleaning person, she was exactly what I needed as well at that time. She put her whole heart into every hour and I had to tell her to stop and go home because it looked like she was going to keep working until very late. She helped me feel heard by God in my need for help in the house.
No matter what our role today, be it washing the floor, walking the dog, taking an elderly person to the doctor or waiting on tables, or whether it is that we are the president of an organization, or person of the year.
Perhaps we are exactly where we are supposed to be, and perhaps it is the way it is supposed to be, at the time it is supposed to be.
Our choice is to add our personal touch, from our heart, and to make it meaningful and to make it good.
Copyright © Chana Klein 2015