In The Background

Dear World,

Have you ever stopped to notice the people in the background of your life? I mean the people that you see, probably every day. You may or may not talk to them but if you do, it’s probably very few words in passing. These are the people that we don’t think about often and maybe don’t even know their names but still, they are in our lives. They probably have lessons to teach us and we miss it daily.

This past week I stopped to notice a person in my background. His name is Eric. I happen to work with this man and I have seen him almost every shift that I have worked for the past two and a half months. I didn’t know his name till this week.

I don’t know Eric well at all and I have spoken to him very little. In fact, I only ever said anything to him, when he spoke to me first. I paid him little attention and go about my business of being oblivious and I miss what a wonderful person he actually is. I miss out on his lesson.

Every time Eric sees myself or anyone for that matter, he says hello. He always asks how you are doing and he always has a smile. I think that he may actually care about the answer that you give him.

The more that I have made myself notice Eric, the more I have realized what an amazing person he is. He would drop anything to grab something heavy out of my hands, and he does at least three or four times a night. He does his job and then checks on the rest of us to see if he can help. He doesn’t ask for a hand. He just keeps working.

I think the best part about Eric, is that I have never seen him without a smile. He works harder than anyone that I work with and his job is bar far the dirtiest, but he continues to smile. He is the definition of a great employee.

Sadly, I think he goes unnoticed. I know that I didn’t even notice him till recently. In fact, I probably was annoyed a few times that he started talking to me. He’d catch me while I was busy and ask me how I was doing, and I’d give a short answer so that I could walk away. I would give him my fake smile and head out.

The first time he said hello to me, I was caught off guard. I could hardly understand what he said and to sound like an even worse person, his appearance is not so great. He is a dishwasher and it is a dirty job, so often his clothes are dirty. He stands over a dishwasher with steam pouring out in his face for hours, so often he is sweating. His teeth don’t look cared for and he looks skinny like he doesn’t eat very well.

To be honest, he looks like a homeless person. I hate even describing his looks because I feel like it makes me seem like a terrible person, but I would be willing to bet that we all have people like Eric in our background. I’ve worked in more restaurants than I care to count, and every one had a dishwasher or a line cook, or another employee that looked similar. I couldn’t tell you any of their names and I’ve missed all of their lessons.

It makes me sad that I am looking back and realizing how careless I have been with someone’s feelings. Eric takes the time each day to acknowledge me with genuine care and concern and I brush him off. I am a bitch….. but I am always looking for ways to improve myself. Perhaps this is the lesson that Eric was meant to teach me.

I think all of our lives are so busy and we get so preoccupied with a million things that it is easy to look over something right in front of you. At any given moment, even while I’m working, my brain is racing with lists. I have lists of things to do, and lists of ways to save money, shopping lists, lists for the kids, summer lists, cleaning lists… seriously, they don’t stop.

The problem is that we all have these things that we focus our attention on. It is easy to do. I don’t think it is intentional, but the fix has to be. I have to be deliberate in correcting my dismissal of a great human being that is reaching out to me in a kind and caring way. I have to pay attention to what he says and actually care about his answers like he does my answers. I need to be intentional when someone speaks to me. That is the very least that a person deserves from me.

It isn’t terribly difficult. I just moved Eric from the background to the foreground. When he walks up and says hello, I actually stop and talk with him. I ask him how he’s doing, even though I know his answer will be “good”. He is always “good”. He is always smiling. He is  teaching me  a thing or two.

I am encouraged by Eric. I watch as he works a job that probably pays very little. I know for certain that his job is hard and long hours, and very thankless. No one says to Eric, “great job washing those dishes. They sure are spotless.” He doesn’t get praised for anything he does at work, but he keeps on smiling and working hard.

I complain because I had a slow night and didn’t make very much in tips, while he scrapes people’s dirty plates with his bare hands. He touches the gross napkins that we wad up on our plates and he has to sort through the silverware that was in our mouths.  He never once complains. He just keeps smiling.

Eric is an inspiration for all of us. I may not know him well now, but I do intend to learn more about him. He could have easily quit saying hello to me when he realized that I wasn’t paying attention. He could have easily ignored me as I walk into the kitchen carrying bus tubs full of dishes. Nope. Never. Eric is truly a one of a kind person. He must be.

I am not sure if I could do his job and still have joy. I am struggling with being happy at my job now and it is a cake walk compared to his. I don’t smile all the time, but he does. He must smile for a reason and I can always use a little more sunshine in my life.

World, I encourage you to look into your background and see who is standing there. Who have you missed out on because you were just too busy to care? What lessons could you learn from your background person? I am willing to bet that we all have at least one person in our background and there is probably something to be learned from each of them.

Love, Cherise



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