Friday, January 23, 2009

A Small Act of Kindness in a Cold World

This article was originally published at on Jan. 16th, 2009

On Friday, January 9th 2009 I was laid off. It came as a shock to me. I´m in a position in the company where I didn´t think they could afford to lay me off. I know and do things in the company no one else knows how to do. I was the supervisor of a department and we had just started a new project that likely will not get done now. It was a startling and sobering moment, to say the least.

My boss informed me that it was nothing personal, that it was strictly an economic move. I have no idea what they´re thinking. My job saves the company tens of thousands of dollars a year. Now they will have to outsource it which will cost them more. I know because I´ve worked for people they´ll have to outsource it to and I know how much they charge and how much they make. I´ve kept records of the repairs I´ve done and I know how much I´ve saved the company over the years. And I´m the only person there who knows how to do some of those repairs. Still, since I was the highest paid in my department, I was the one who was laid off. Trying to make sense of this will only drive me crazy.

I was overwhelmed. I couldn´t believe I was being laid off. I haven´t been without work since 1985, when I moved with a new wife and baby to start a new life. I´ve always had some kind of work and I´ve always done my best. So I handed in all my keys and my radio, packed up my tools with a bit of trepidation, and said my goodbyes to my friends and coworkers, some of whom I´ve been working with for 13 years. For a moment I thought one of my guys was going to cry. I could see he was fighting to maintain control. It was quite emotional.

As I left the building I had already decided that I was going to make this event into an opportunity. I´ve been working too long at the same job, it had become a rut, and I´ve known for quite a while that I was very underpaid for a man of my knowledge, skills and experience. I had simply been working there because it was steady work and I had a family to raise. Now, since my ex had decided last year she didn´t need me in the household and since my work decided they didn´t need me to perform my duties any longer, many doors should open. Perhaps in the long run we only need ourselves.

So, I had decided earlier in the week to make a usual Friday stop at Chile´s to have a couple of drinks and some conversation with a good friend of mine, John, who also happens to be a coworker. I wasn´t going to let a little thing like being laid off prevent me from keeping that arrangement. I left work an hour early and I headed to Chile´s. On the way I called and told John what had happened. He was also surprised, to say the least.

When I arrived at Chile´s the bartender made the comment that I was early. She was used to seeing me come by around four or so and it was only two thirty. I told her I had been laid off and ordered my usual margarita. She made the drink, poured it and walked away. A moment later she came back and asked if I´d like to see a menu. I told her not just yet and she insisted, then told me to pick whatever I wanted, that it was on the house. I was aghast. I told her no, but she insisted saying that I was a regular and she took care of her regular customers. I hadn´t thought of myself as that much of a regular seeing as how I only visited every couple of weeks, but she apparently did. I couldn´t refuse the offer.

I ordered a steak dinner with a stuffed potato and veggies. When it was ready the manager, a man I had seen maybe once before and hardly ever talked to, brought the meal over and told me he was sorry for my misfortune. My eyes began to tear. I told him thank you, that they were being too kind. It was one of the best meals I´d had in a long time, mostly because of the kindness which had brought it about. I couldn´t help but get a little emotional.

My buddy showed up a while later and we conversed for a time. I told him about the meal and he was impressed. As we talked about work and the economy and the events of the day I found myself having to fight to contain my emotions. I knew things were going to get rough financially but I was sure I was going to land on my feet. There are people around me who care about me and I know this more than ever now. When it was time to go, John paid the bill for our drinks and we went our separate ways.

Last Friday my faith in humanity was restored. I received an act of kindness that I did not ask for and I did not expect. I suppose that makes me appreciate it all the more. In times like these, one often discovers who really cares for him and who does not. I suppose we all decide who we should support and who we shouldn´t. Whether that support comes in the emotional, physical or financial form, or in any combination, is another thing for one to decide. The important thing about support and acts of kindness, however, is that it comes voluntarily. That´s what gives such acts meaning. No one forced the people at Chile´s to give me a meal, and if they had then it certainly would have lost all meaning and may have caused bad feelings between all parties involved.

In the end, people will look after those they care about. Sometimes, we may find ourselves surprised at who cares about us. I believe there are more caring people in the world than uncaring. At least, I certainly hope so.

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