Sitting in a Chicago cafe looking out the window at a young man sweeping the sidewalk. He’s getting each and every tiny piece of trash and cigarette butt out of each crack with his small, black broom to get every tiny crumb and fragment of paper. I’m impressed by both his dexterity with his little black broom and dustpan and his attention to detail. He’s doing a good job. Praiseworthy. I take note.
He’s a 20-something, good-looking, possibly hispanic kid and he’s focused so intently on doing his job well.
There might be a billion things more crucial to the world’s survival at this moment. When leaders are actually discussing whether it might be a good idea to once again begin a nuclear arms race. This guy is focusing all his attention on that cigarette butt stuck between concrete slabs. And I’m focused on his apparent zen.
I don’t know what motivates him… if there’s a harsh boss who will be out to make sure each and every cigarette butt has been gotten. If he had a father who taught him to do a job right the first time. Maybe he’s mentally only able to focus with autistic clarity on out-of-place cigarette butts. Maybe he’s just aware of doing all he’s expected to do in the here and now.
Now a squat man leans his cane against a light post and approaches the sweeper with a post card. The sweeper stops his job and pays attention to what the crippled man is asking him. He looks at the card closely, then looks up at the warm building where I am sitting. Apparently his attentive focus isn’t exclusive to removing small pieces of trash. He attends to the man with the same care that he does to his job.
Now the crippled man is inside the cafe where I am sitting and behind me, at the counter he is handing the card to the pretty girl who is serving coffee. She is holding his card and trying to explain to him that he must download the app. Download the app. The app must be on your phone. He’s mumbling something that sounds maybe like Spanish. She tries Spanish. “Soulement Cafe” Then she offers to give him a coffee. She offers it a couple of times before the man says thank you in broken english and he begins walking out with his cane.
Why is it so easy to be cynical of humanity when in the space of two minutes, in the space of 20 feet, I saw these two people caring. Really caring.
We rely upon people being good people and we rely upon workers being good workers. We hope to encounter people who really care. When we leave a nursing home after visiting a loved one we pass workers in the halls and we hope that they care. When we need a problem resolved over with a call to customer service we hope we get someone who cares.
Caring matters not because someone will catch you caring at work and write a blog post about you. Not because it can make you rich. But because it makes you present. It gives each moment value. But more than that, it increases the value of the experiences of those who encounter you.
Maybe there’s something of a New Year’s resolution in this.