Yesterday afternoon, after a "no good horrible very bad day," (Thank you, Judith Viorst, for that wonderfully accurate group of words!), I curled up, just wanting to go home. Managing a group of middle school students...as a sub, no less...on one of the last remaining days of the school calendar year is not for the faint of heart. Neither of us much wanted to be where we happened to be.
Mrs. M. poked her head in, quietly asking me if it would bother me if she cleaned, and I immediately relaxed. No matter that she had a schedule of things to get done, after working a full day already, she put my comfort ahead of her "to do" list.
As she worked, we chatted back and forth about how our days had gone, and I asked her about her summer plans.
A huge smile broke out, and eyes twinkling, she told me, "School. I'm going back to school."
Delighted I pressed for details, and without hesitation, she filled me in.
"I'm going to learn computers and how to manage an office. I want to help my husband. And, most of all, I want to learn to write English. I can speak it, read it, but I am not so good with with the writing."
By now, we both smiled, me in sheer delight that this lovely woman, some 40 years of age, I think, was willing to put herself out into a great unknown area. She smiled, I'm guessing, because someone took the time to hear her story.
You see, Mrs. M. works during the school day in the school cafeteria, and immediately after to her duties as janitor. She never seems to stop moving. I know she's a fantastic cook, her fresh guacamole and other "special" dishes, made everyone's day.
My dad always reminded us to "see" and acknowledge those faceless workers we tend to ignore - the cooks, the janitors, the delivery men, the folks who pick up the trash. We tend to take them, and what they do, for granted.
It always pays off, human kindness, taking me into some one else's world and outside of mine (which in this case pretty much involved self pity), and you can bet that there's going to be a great story.
I asked if she would miss the school and the cooking, and she answered immediately with a soft yes.
Pausing for a moment, she continued, "You see, I think this is my gift, to be of service. To nurture and take of others with my cooking."
Wow, what a lesson and wake up call for me. Yes, I'd pretty much been through the ringer with the day's events, but where I curled up and tried to shut out the world, she kept right on moving. The kids whiz by the cafeteria staff, most of them not even making eye contact. Not so much out of rudeness, but simply eager to eat and then play outside.
Despite this, with love, kindness, and talent, seldom being thanked for her efforts, she would miss it all.
I told her that I admired her, her willingness to learn, to serve, and that I'd keep her in my prayers. I told her that I meant that, and my words were a promise to her.
She asked me to pray for her son, a former student, because he was heading to Iraq, and she was worried. Of course, I answered "yes."
If I hadn't asked those few questions, I'd never have been rewarded with the beautiful hopes and dreams behind this woman, who simply wanted to serve.
All of us have stories behind our faces, stories we all want to tell. We want to be seen and heard.
Being a collector of stories, well, it doesn't get much better.
Note: the above photo shows my mother's "cookie bowl" with stories all its own. I shot it last week as part of an online class assignment, and it seemed to be a perfect fit. My only regret from yesterday's encounter with Mrs. M., is that I should have asked to take her photo.