771. Maid: On Caring for Those Who Serve You

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"Rent plus groceries plus utilities plus laundry plus insurance plus gas plus clothing minus an hourly paycheck of barely more than minimum wage and the scant assistance parceled out by the government with spectacular reluctance — the brute poetry of home economics recurs throughout Land’s book."


A book review by Emily Cooke in The New York Times last winter, quoted from above, prompted me to read Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother's Will to Survive, a memoir by Stephanie Land. Land is a young woman who made many mistakes that cost her in significant ways, including connecting with and getting pregnant by the wrong guy and at the wrong time. Raising her daughter on her own and needing to earn a living, she became a maid who worked for a cleaning service and also for her own clients.

Read this book if you ever wonder about who is behind the ads for cleaning services or ever wonder about the woman who cleans your office space or perhaps even your home, if you ever see or think about the woman who cleans your hotel room. Land writes of her very difficult life trying to provide for her daughter, trying to keep her warm in the winter, trying to provide enough food. She writes of the struggle to care for her when she's sick because the means aren't easy to come by, neither money for cough medicine nor paid time off to stay home with her.

When I was in early grade school, my mother had a "cleaning lady" come in sometimes to help clean our three-bedroom rambler. I'm not sure exactly why her help was needed and it didn't last long. In fact, I don't remember much about it, but here's what I do remember: every time she came, my mother set the table to serve her lunch. I can still picture the plate of food on the cloth placemat and a beautiful paper napkin, usually a floral design, folded on the left side of the plate. I remember my mother served her. I remember that she and my mother would sit in the living room and talk. I also remember having to clean my room before she came. More than a means to obtain a clean house, those few months or however long it lasted taught me something important about caring for people, a topic about which I still have so much to learn. Land wrote of a few similar caring customers and her deep gratitude for them, but far too many were of the sort that she had to endure in order to be paid.

Who is the person waiting on you or waiting on me at the grocery store or the drug store? The person bringing the mail to your door? The man handing me stamps at the post office? The woman pouring your coffee at lunch, or the woman picking up my dirty towels from the hotel room floor, leaving behind perfectly folded towels, clean and fresh?

Many years ago I read something written by Margie Haack, co-director of Ransom Fellowship and author of the quarterly, “Letters from the House Between,” about tipping hotel maids. I'm sorry to admit that I'd never before thought of doing that. But I started right then leaving cash and a note of thanks and have been doing so ever since. Sometimes I get notes back, with thanks and often a hint of surprise, as if no one before had ever left them a tip.

Let's make life easier for each other, not harder. More kindness. More respect. More sharing. I have a long way to go in this myself, and am so grateful for those in my life who have taught me and those who continue to teach me, like Stephanie Land has done in her book.

Read Maid. Look at the faces of people who serve you and care for them. Leave a tip next time you stay in a hotel.

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Related post:

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[Photo: taken of a view within the Minneapolis Central Library]

769. Thinking and Writing About Your Work

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Those of you who have read my blog or newsletter for awhile may have seen mention of this before, but given that the second edition of Finding Livelihood was recently published, I wanted to mention it again in case you missed it the first time around and also to let new readers know about it. I've put together a guided journal that you can download, print out, and write in. While it corresponds to the book, you neither need a copy of the book nor do you need to have read the book to make use of the journal—although I always highly recommend both having a copy of the book and reading it (wink). Each page of the journal has a writing prompt to get you thinking about your work life, and you can define work as broadly or as narrowly as you like.

Here are a few examples of the writing prompts you'll find. There's 18 in all.

 What unexpected turns has your work experience, or the work experience of a spouse, taken?

In what ways are you satisfied and unsatisfied in your work? How has your degree of satisfaction changed over the years?

What people and events can you witness—pay attention to or “see ”—through your work?

 

I hope you'll download the journal, consider the questions, and even write for a bit. I also hope you'll let me know what you discover.

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[Photo: Grass from Jay Cook State Park in northern Minnesota. Aren’t the colors gorgeous?]

767. A Presidential Model

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There’s a scene at the beginning of episode 6, season 3, of the television series “West Wing,” in which President Bartlet and his wife, Abbey, are bantering about their morning at church as they walk down the West Wing Colonnade. The day’s text was from Ephesians and back and forth they go on the handling of it in the sermon. I only recently started watching this show on Netflix, 20 years after it first launched on NBC, and am finding something noteworthy nearly every time I turn it on. President Bartlet ends their discussion by, rather heatedly, pointing to and expounding on verse 21 of chapter 5: “Be subject to one another.” But then a number of his team arrive and bad news descends and the mood shifts. Even so, as Bartlet and his chief-of-staff, Leo McGarry, turn toward each other to talk, Bartlet, in a calm and gentle tone, starts their conversation with, “Be subject to each other, Leo. What can I do to be subject to you?” Imagine what could happen if each of us at least thought that, didn’t even say it, when we were at work each day no matter our status above or below those around us? What can I do to be subject to you?

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[Photo: taken of an outside wall at the Peter Engel Science Center at St. John’s University.]