Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Monday, March 28, 2016

Everybody is special.

My dad had this sort of perspective, and for that I am grateful.
A torpedo hoe in the hands of a master can do wonders!
Valuing people and their abilities.
On Facebook I saw and shared a statement that I keep in mind as I journey around workplaces. It says simply; "I was raised to treat the janitor with the same respect as the CEO." I think we too readily write people and their skills off.  I have heard it said, "Oh, he was only a tradesman." (or "tradie")  My mother desperately wanted us children "to be 'professionals' not tradesmen like your father." Dad on the other hand used to say, "I'm not too worried what they do, so long as they do it to the best of their ability and give a good honest day's work for a good day's pay." I have come to value the particular skills in each job. I get to see firefighters at work and see them working out tactics, the right use of the hose, the best point of entry or which part to deal to first etc.. I see brewery workers doing their thing. Fork lift drivers have a special skill. The engineers I love watching. I love traveling with St John Ambulance crews and hearing them assessing their patients. They bring medical knowledge but they also bring an ability to calm people, and help them cope with difficult situations. Recently I have picked up another "sort of" chaplaincy. There was an accident with a lawn mowing machine at the local botanical gardens. The group contracted to mow lawns wanted someone to come in and talk with those who witnessed it or were involved. I got sent in and sat on the grass debriefing (chatting) the crew, thinking it would be a one off visit.  But the management seem keen for me to keep up the contact. So I now chat to a few of the people working in the gardens on a regular basis. I was talking with their leader and he showed me where the tools are stored. He looked through the torpedo hoes, showing me one which was well worn. "I wonder how long that has been in use here to get that small? What stories that could tell, aye?" he commented. He chose one which was quite worn, small and sharp and we headed down a path to catch up on another staff member. "See here," he said pointing to the pathway, "The boy hasn't edged that correctly. This here is how you do it." With his hoe in hand, as we slowly walked, he ran the edge down the side of the path and gave a flick of his wrist every now and then and the path looked neatly edged and cambered. I could not do that! It would take me years to learn to do that so quickly and neatly.  As we have talked things through he has shown me the various jobs the group does, and once again I have come to value the work of the gardener. There are special skills, ways of seeing things and earthy wisdom that this man has that people should not write off with comments such as, "He's only a gardener."  I learned to appreciate skills as a secondary school pupil. I got a holiday job helping the janitor at a furniture factory. There was a timber yard there and my job was to assist the janitor to stack the timber for drying. This timber was the various types of wood that the factory made into furniture. It was seasoned in the yard and sometimes it was put through a kiln to dry it further. Fergus (Ferg we called him) was the janitor's name. He was a chain smoker and wheezed, coughed and swore his way through the day. But he knew all the various timbers and their characteristics. He would tell us what furniture they would be used for and what the grain would come up like. He would stack them with love. He knew how to handle planks of timber, moving one sideways with deft movements of his hand. He could look at a plank and estimate how long it was. We would check with the tape and he was always within a few inches. I went to that factory thinking this is "just a labouring job, easy peasy, I intend to do something 'higher'."  I came away with a real appreciation for the skills, knowledge and passion Ferg had. It was an important lesson that has enriched my life.
"The Lady in the Van."
My wife and I went to the films last night. It was the story of a homeless lady who parked her van outside the house of a playwright. She was elderly, cantankerous and not very hygienic.  The film follows the relationship these two and the neighbours had.  It turned out that she used to be a concert pianist but her experience as a nun and an accident led her to end up on the street. It was in part a comedy, with delightful characters and some great lines. I enjoyed the night out, but I ended up pensive. Through our drop-in centre in my last church I had encountered many similar situations. An old bloke Bill, wheezes his way around town, battles depression and various mental health issues. He used to be a lead guitarist in a band. Another man, (dead just now) used to come and I'd let him play the piano in the Church. He used to play piano and croon in a dance band, but drink and drugs took over his life. Another seemed quite mad, but had a memory that few could match. He could list off historical dates and mathmatical details as quick as a wink. I never saw him beaten in chess. "The Lady in the Van" is a great film, you would enjoy it. But as you watch it, know that the next "street person" you see could have a similar story and untapped skills locked inside them.

No comments: