Monday, November 12, 2012
Affirm This. A couple months ago I served as a cocktail server for an event that cost…well let’s just say…more than my wedding will probably cost. Hundreds of family members and friends gathered together to lavishly celebrate a birthday. There was a DJ, dance floor, open bar, buffet of appetizers, buffet of main entrées, coffee bar, desert bar…you name it…they had it. It was a party I wished I was attending as opposed to serving, for sure! As I went table to table checking on guests, and pushed my way through the crowd to serve trays of food and drinks I nodded my head to the music and wished I could join everyone on the dance floor. It was a fun party, but it was a long night as the one serving. Their birthday celebration did not end until 1:30, which meant the staff and myself did not leave until 2:45am. As I bussed all of the tables and began carrying platters back to the kitchen, I stacked the dishes by the dish washing station…and then I noticed him…Emmanuel*, the man who washes all of our dishes. I've noticed him before. I've introduced myself, said hello...but much of our interaction has been quick as I've hurried back to my guests. As I stacked the dishes in my hands for him to wash, I carried on my usual interaction: smiled and said thank you. In broken English he hurriedly said, “You’re welcome.” I couldn’t help but pause for a moment and lock eyes with him. This sixty something year old man, wrinkles beginning to form around his eyes, sweat gathering on his forehead…I thought to myself…I wonder what his story is. I wonder if he has a wife waiting at home. Children? Grand children? What did he do before this job? Has he worked here long? And then the big question that truly pierced my heart…when was the last time someone affirmed him in his hard work? The dishes stacked higher and higher and higher…was his heart racing? Was he wondering when he’d actually get home tonight? Does this happen most nights? I turned around and returned to gather more dishes. By the time I came back the dishes had stacked even higher and as I set my dishes down and began organizing them to make it a little easier on him…my heart had to move a bit…I went around to Emmanuel…placed my hand on his shoulder. He jumped. Startled. I said, “Thank you so much for your hard work.” And I smiled, locking eyes with him. He looked at me stunned. And after a moment. Said, “Thank you, mi preciosa.” Now, my thanks did not make Emmanuel’s work load any lighter…my thanks did not do much of anything…some might argue it just made me feel better. BUT, I would argue…that what it did do was validate Emmanuel and affirm him as a man working by my side. What it did was make him a real person to me. And it made me a real person to him. It put us on an even plane. There is a huge amount of separation in our culture. I saw it on perhaps a more exaggerated level when I traveled abroad, but I’m seeing it every day now right here where we live. How do we bridge the gap? Affirmation and validation. A simple touch. A simple word of thanks. A simple word of recognition. Has the potential to bridge the gap between server and dishwasher…Manager and Employee…Child and Adult…Educated and Less educated…Homeless Man and Businessman. I’m learning that part of opening our eyes to the need in the world and part of just playing the part of a person here on this planet is to truly look around and see…who am I ignoring…who can I affirm…who can I validate? It starts here…Affirmation…it paves the way and invites true change to begin to emerge. Striving to Affirm those I connect With, Regina *Name in this story Change for Privacy.