Avoiding the trap of self-consumption gives one new perception
By Steve Wildsmith | (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Standing on the corner of The Daily Times building, indulging in a filthy habit I really need to give up, is a stress relief for myself and my co-workers.
And sometimes, it’s a life lesson as well. In the past couple of weeks, I’ve been reminded of just how ungrateful I can become at times.
Gratitude is a fleeting thing, a spiritual principle that’s as difficult to hold onto as a handful of smoke sometimes. Most of us live such a life of privilege that disruptions to our routine, disagreements with others and headaches on the job become much more stressful and worrisome than they really are.
I can’t even remember what, exactly, co-worker Amanda Greever and I were discussing a couple of weeks ago; no doubt, we were grousing about something here at the paper that presented us with a particularly onerous challenge, or perhaps the ineptitude of a nameless fellow employee that meant more work on our part. It was trivial, no doubt, in the grand scheme of things. But one or both of us was particularly annoyed, and the more we talked about it, the more we became convinced that our day, and possibly our week, was going to be one gigantic ball of stress.
And then a man wandered up.
We’ll call him John. He looked haggard and worn, worry lines etched into the skin around eyes dimmed by clouds of hopelessness. Did we mind, he asked, if he checked the ashtray for half-smoked cigarettes. No, I said, we were just standing here bitching about our jobs.
“I wish I had a job to bitch about,” he said, not unkindly.
He struggled with alcohol, he told us. He was living with a relative and spent most of his days shuffling around downtown. The proprietor of a local salon had run him off from the ashtray in front of her business, and now he was nervous that someone else might call the cops. I gave him my name, told him to throw it out there to anybody at this business who might express disapproval, and we wished him luck. And I made sure to shake his hand before he left, to try and show him on some unspoken level that I saw him, that I acknowledged him as another human being.
Amanda and I both realized just how insignificant our previous conversation had been. We went back to our desks with a perspective that, for the rest of the day at least, helped us see just how our perceived “problems” are so very trivial in the grand scheme of things. A friend of mine calls them “Cadillac” problems, because regardless if the car blows a tire or breaks down, it’s still a Cadillac ... and if you can afford a Cadillac, you can probably afford to fix it.
I haven’t seen John in a few weeks, and I hope he’s doing alright. I try not to forget about him, though, because standing on that same corner, I see what happens when our worldview recedes to the point that our own problems, our own concerns, our own worries are all we see. I watch as cars scream down East Harper Avenue, honking impatiently at other drivers who slow them down ... I hear blowing horns and yelled obscenities because a guy in a wheelchair takes too long in the crosswalk ... I notice as everyone, myself included, gets so caught up in the minutiae of their own lives that the struggles of others and the plight of the less fortunate get nothing more than a passing glance.
That’s a tragedy, in my opinion. That’s not how we’re supposed to be, not as followers of a particular religion, and certainly not as human beings. When we lose sight of our connection to one another on a fundamental level, society suffers.
We slide backward, toward an every-man/woman-for-himself/herself mentality that makes all of our lives harder and more lonely.
Some people prefer it that way, perhaps, but I’m not one of them. I’ll take guys like John and do what I can to make their day a little easier — even if it’s just giving them a handshake — than all of the bleating horns and self-obsessed drivers and fast-walking pedestrians who pass one another by without acknowledgment.
Steve Wildsmith is a recovering addict and the Weekend editor for The Daily Times. Contact him at (email@example.com) or at 981-1144.