It had been a hard day – the third day in a row of standing eight hours at the cash register. It had been a hard month – five weeks of depression. Not as depressed as I have recently been, and not as long as I have sometimes been, but five weeks is a long time to be depressed. And today I was not writing. The last two days my shift at the cash register had stimulated ideas for blog posts, which I furiously recorded between customers and on my breaks. Today nothing. Writing brings meaning to my job – makes me feel like I’m meant to be here. Absent that, my cashiering time can feel empty. All this agonizing is unnecessary – the stuff I write when I write makes it clear that this work has meaning.
But today I wasn’t getting that bit about the meaning. The guy in front of me was big and muscular in ways that I profile as not sensitive in ways that would make them open to my blog – or to my standard question, “What’s been a highlight of your day?” I don’t know what prompted me to ask him anyway – maybe I was getting a little desperate to inject some meaning into this day.
His answer blew away my preconceptions. “The highlight of my day? Having you ask me that question. That you might care about my answer. Some days you just need a dose of that kind of energy.”
Suddenly it all had meaning to me – the blog, the question , the job. I was on fire. The rest of our relatively brief transaction (he didn’t have a lot of purchases) had a positive charge: I told him I would write this exchange up in the blog, then said I would do it that night. I started it that night, but am not finishing it until today.
In the next two hours – the end of my shift – I jotted notes for three more blog posts, based on further encounters I had with people. I came away from my day with three principles:
- When things seem meaningless, a meaningful question can turn things around.
- Don’t profile people – you don’t know what may come out of them.
- We need each other – what helps one may simultaneously help the other,