Level I: The Bottom Line – (breathe, eat, sleep, crap, pay rent … repeat.)
I like my job. My day job … respiratory therapy … yeah, like it. I like the hospital where I work, and the folks (day and night shift) that I work with. I do not love my job. I don’t love it for reasons that have nothing to do with the job itself, more so than I do not enjoy being under the employ of others. I do not like other people having the ability to decide (at their on discretion, by the way, in this great state of North Carolina) whether or not I will receive a pay check that I will use to support myself and my family. What I have come to learn though is that it’s not necessarily the employment, but the attitude that I carry in with me that determines whether or not I am happy. We gotta work, there’s no denying that, sooo …
I work. And on my way to work this past Thursday, as is often customary, I was listening to NPR. Then this warming humanitarian piece came pouring through the car stereo:
(the entire piece can be read here.)
All manner of bells, whistles, and alerts went off. Negro spirituals ebbed and flowed, pickaninnies danced spirited jigs, visions of Haile Selassie with a shine kit ready to buff well worn loafers into golden sandals appeared and disappeared. Then Rush … Rush Limbaugh in all his boundless wisdom entered and said, “Goddam liberal media.” –– and I agreed with him (terrifying, I know).
Maybe in an America in an alternate universe where the African Slave Trade never happened, where blacks many years post slavery were not largely prevented performing anything but menial work due to roadblocks in education, financial, and sociological advancement, this story could be a soul stirring human interest story. This ain’t that America. And I could not conceive of how this story got green lighted. I mean JEEZ:
“At Concourse D, there’s one shoeshiner with a thick African accent, a soul patch, and an interesting story to tell.”
Like what in the entire fuck is and “African accent” or a soul patch for that matter. Ok … digressing.
During my post listen nausea I began to think of the very sordid and stereotype riddled relationship with blacks and labor in this country, and realized that this was probably another source for my disdain for work. Then some of my humanist buddhisty thought kicked in (which is great, because being frustrated with racism in this “post racial” world is exhausting.) This allowed my view to broaden enough for me to arrive at the next level.
Level II: Be SOMEBODY! - (I want you to want me, I need you to need me.)
I dare say that everybody wants to be important/significant/necessary. In our society, and in many for that matter, a person’s livelihood or role in that society is the means by which people arrive at their “somebodyhood”. Which works, except when it doesn’t. I will refer to my healthcare career again here.
During my career I have met the most brilliant CNAs (nurse aids as they were once called) and the most brilliantly idiotic doctors (some dangerously so). In the healthcare hierarchy of deeds it is the MD that receives all the respect and accolades in the general public, followed closely by nursing. What the general public does not often see, unless they have the misfortune of becoming ill, is the entire healthcare team.
Respiratory therapists, pharmacy techs, secretaries, lab, x-ray, PT, OT, Speech therapists, the social work team, environmental services, clinical engineering … we make up an intricate web of people who take care of those who have limited or no ability to take care of themselves. We are where the rubber meets the road, the folks that carryout the orders of the good (and not so good) doctors. I’m not saying that I haven’t worked with some amazing doctors in my time as a therapist because I have and without nursing there would be a gaping hole in healthcare that would be impossible to fill, but it sucks that as important/significant/necessary/ as our jobs are people often don’t know or care that we’re doing them … unless we’re not.
So why do we still do the work? Mainly because of the bottom line, but when you find folks that have hung in there for years and are still generally happy there’s usually a bigger reason (either that or they’re masochists ). At our core, or at least at mine, I enjoy people. My patients, my co-workers, err body. They make the work I do bearable. Over the years we have loved each other through unspeakable tragedy and limitless joy. I have laughed harder than I have ever laughed at work and cried harder than I have ever cried. It was this that I was thinking of when I made my final decent into the parking lot of “The U” last Thursday. I was glowing with the light of universal love and brotherhood. I had arrived at …
Level III: I AM somebody.
My mother is the foundation of my beliefs about work. She worked hard from age 16 to age 42 at a job on which she was one of the first blacks. She had to take a test to even get the job, an effort by a then lily white company (New Jersey Bell) to keep blacks out. My mother went on to become a union delegate. She fought (sometimes literally) for the rights of the worker that while they might not be recognized individually that they be respected and treated fairly. This I believe this to be the real bottom line, decent work for decent compensation and fair treatment. My mother was never one to see one person’s job as important and another person’s as insignificant. Work was work. I couldn’t appreciate her example then, but I do now.
As much as it pains me to admit it, even the shoe shiner’s job is important/significant/necessary. It provides a moment of respite for the weary business traveler, a means of financial support for “Shine”, his family, and the league of Ethiopian shoe shiners in training he has back at home (I’m sorry … I’m trying to let it go, but can’t he find something else to do?) Just as the healthcare team is a bridge of support for the sick, we are a bridge of support for one another in life. Each section of the bridge from the bolts (shoe shines) to the the planks (doctors) perform a function that we might not necessarily understand, but without which we would be lacking.