Monday, May 21, 2012

Islands


I like the idea of nursing homes for the elderly. (keep reading before you assume what’s next)

Typical responses to this statement are gasps and looks of contempt thrown my way.  “How could you say that Adam, those are horrible places?”  To clarify, I’m not talking about the hole in the wall; nasty places the media has made seem like are the majority of nursing homes.  I am talking about assisted living communities.  My liking of such communities is that it is a response to a bigger problem.  The problem is the elderly are far too often forgotten and lonely.  These small types of communities fill the void left by our individualistic society.
We have an elderly neighbor who walks her dog past out house a lot.  Actually we have a lot of elderly neighbors, we live on a cul-de-sac and are the youngest people in the neighborhood, so we see a lot of traffic from folks walking dogs, riding bikes, or taking leisurely strolls.  We are only the 3rd owners of our home and it was built in 1960, there are still some original owners around the ‘hood too!  Point being there are lots of old folks around.  This exposes an essential dilemma our society and neighborhood faces that burns me up. 

While walking her dog one of our elderly neighbors mentioned in passion to my wife that she needs her gutters cleaned, in response to seeing me on my roof cleaning ours.  Julia (my wife) let me know and my immediate response was to catch her the next time around the cul-de-sac and offer my help.  I went over and cleaned her gutters out, it may have taken me a total of 20 minutes in work, however I probably spent an hour over there, talking.  This is not to elevate myself or brag about some great feat I feel I’ve accomplished though.  My question the entire time walking across her roof, as I bent down to clean the gutters, was simple, “Where is her family?” 
This is a story I see and hear all too often.  Elderly folks who are lonely so when someone else stops by or makes conversation it is obvious they are lonely and need help in some areas, whether that  be yard work, cooking, cleaning, etc.  I have no problems doing it and actually think that is what community is for.  I may be a bit of a romantic when it comes to neighborhoods and small communities.  I have family members who live within 20 minutes of my grandmother and see her as often as I do.  The sad part about that is I live 1800 miles away and come home maybe twice a year.  I keep myself awake at night worrying about the elderly population that has been forgotten and pushed towards the fringes of society.  There is an inner sadness that fills me that I wish others could see.

This same shadow touches the opposite end of the spectrum as well.  How many boys from fatherless homes do you know?  A boy from a fatherless home is not a new storyline, something society is not familiar with, but the way we treat it is as if it is a small, isolated, or rare event.  How many boys could profit from having a positive male role model/friend in their life?  I have a “Little Brother” I’ve been with since he was 7.  He turns 13 this year.  I have seen him grow and become a young man I am proud of.  Grades have taken huge leaps and even his personal confidence has grown.  I’d like to think a little of that has to do with our relationship. 

I feel a responsibility, almost indebted to, for others.  Not in an unhealthy controlling way, but a way that I think narrows in on part of humanity our culture has undervalued and, from what I’ve experienced and seen, overlooked.  We are our “brothers” keepers.  A community does not flourish because of individuals alone.  The succession of any community, business, or team is in the individuals supporting one another and becoming an organism rather than isolated cells.  The meshing of cultures and individuals is what makes our world beautiful.  This beauty is overshadowed by selfishness and individualistic thinking.  No man is an island, nor should he be.  Can you see the darkness of individualism in your community?  Do you have an elderly neighbor?  Is there a mother of 3 raising her kids alone down the street?  Couldn’t you shoot some hoops with one of her boys?  Maybe cleaning out gutters isn’t your thing, which is fine, but are you willing to metaphorically roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty for the sake of others?  Do you feel any sense of responsibility for others?  If not, why?  If so, what are you doing about it?  I think this conversation needs to be made space for and discussed more openly today.  The shadows of our neighborhoods would soon lift and let the sunshine of a resolute humanity in.  The chains of individualism and selfishness would liberate a flourishing community.  All these nostalgic and poetic images begin with one thing, you.  What’s your response?

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Lessons from Chicken in ATL


Airports are portals of random temporariness.  As strangers pass each other en-route to their final destination lasting impressions are easily something that are not found here.  However, amidst all the fast walking, cell phone talking, iPod listening, and internet browsing that can often times seem like a big blur of random happenings if one looks close enough priceless lessons can be found beneath the fast moving surface. 

The Atlanta International Airport is large and in charge, a boss among airports in the United States.  So large that I’ve never travelled through it without stressing out about making my connecting flight on time in part to having to run from one concourse to the next, which are far apart.  If you’ve been there you know what I am talking about.  There’s a subway system that connects the concourses to one another.  Amidst all the hustle and bustle of airports, especially a large one like Atlanta it would be easy to think little things are of little importance and that last impressions are foreign concepts. 

Because I now live in the Midwest (originally from Jacksonville, FL) every chance I get to indulge in something “Southern “I gladly do so.  I decided to grab something to eat, Popeyes Chicken.  Popeyes is in a huge airport with a huge food court in one of its many concourses.  Expectations are that you purchase your food, keep your head down, find a table, eat, leave, and remain a homogenous part of the crowd.  To my surprise my expectations were shattered and otherwise dull travelling experience enhanced.  I bought my food and headed to the corner where all the straws, napkins, and sporks were stored.  I was greeted by a jolly gentleman named Ralph who said hello and asked if I needed a table for one.  I was a bit confused and didn’t want to be rude so I said, “Yes.”  Luckily for me what happened next did so while my food was in Ralph’s hands because otherwise I may have dropped it out of pure shock.  Ralph proceeds to say, “Let me get that for you sir, follow me,” and takes me to a booth.  I sat enthralled by his kindness.  Maybe I just looked like I needed help or he admired my tattoos?  As I sat there for the next 30 minutes I watched Ralph float around the little eating area greeting everyone with the same kindness.  As folks left their table he would assure them he would get their trash and wish them well on their trip.  He walked to others who were eating asking if they needed anything.  I just smiled as I watched him because I saw such great joy in his work that most would consider not much.  So I call him over and ask him his name.  I extend my hand I tell him I really appreciate what he is doing and that I’ve never had such a good experience in all my travels, and then I asked who his manager was.  I go find his manager, Jim, and tell him the same, which hopefully was refreshing because I could only imagine in an airport food court that most people only want to complain when talking to a manager.  I walked away hoping others would do the same and fill Ralph and Jim with encouragement all day, but was also left with their fingerprints embedded in my mind.

Ralph makes maybe $8.50-10 an hour and definitely probably doesn’t have benefits. He serves people all day.  His attitude could be poor.  Most in his position are, however, Ralph really took ahold of his job, which really isn’t beyond cleaning up tables as folks leave (evidenced by his coworkers walking around doing so) but he took it to another level of excellence.  Ralph is a man I’d give a job “off the streets” when I own a company in my future.  That kind of joy and work ethic is hard to find these days and I really thought it beneficially to share this story.  Have you had any experiences like this? 

I’m not sure if Ralph or Jim or anyone affiliated with them will ever see this, but I am thankful to have met them both and had that experience.