Say their names

José comes all the way from Costa Rica every year, leaving his family behind for six months.  Peter moved here from Ireland fifteen years ago and thinks Americans can’t drink.  Aubrey lives in the Bronx and remembers every Yankees stat you could think up. Mae just started a new job and doesn’t know many people in the city yet.

What do these people have in common? You’d probably never have noticed them.

As I go about my day, I’m overwhelmed by the thought of people who made it possible. I’m not talking about parents, who made all of my days possible.  These people play a more subtle role, making life just a bit easier in this particular day.

Some are distant.  I type this post on a keyboard that twenty people handled between its assembly and my use.  I may never know who they are, because it’s abstracted away from me. Logitech didn’t make my keyboard; twenty nameless people did.  But I have only Logitech to thank for these keystrokes.  I know nothing of these individuals and what they sacrificed for me.

Yet some of these people are much more accessible.  José woke up at 5 AM, mopped the lobby floor, and opened the door for me on my way to work.  Peter cleaned all the front windows, even though his back isn’t great.  Aubrey stays up until 3 AM each night, alone, keeping our office building safe.  And Mae took out our trash, got on her hands and knees, and scrubbed around eight toilets — even in the hard to reach places.

A couple weeks ago, I realized I had passed by all of these people, and many more.  I smiled, but didn’t know who they were.

Could you imagine if your life’s work was completely taken for granted?

So I asked.  I gathered up the courage (why does it take courage?) and said hello, introduced myself, and asked their names.  They were all taken aback in different ways. This is outside of social norms, for whatever reason, and some didn’t know how to respond. Mae was hesitant because she thought she had done something wrong.

It didn’t take me long.  I spent maybe five minutes learning a bit of their life stories, and exchanging some of mine.

That half hour of conversation has added more fulfillment to my days than all the office chats I’ve had in three weeks.  I know some more people, they know me, and for thirty seconds passing by I can remind them how meaningful their personal sacrifices are to me.

All it takes is a handshake, a smile, and a name.

So, here’s a challenge to you and to myself: be mindful of what it took to make your life easier. And get to know one person you see every day but don’t know anything about.

Then do it a few more times.  Soon enough, you’ll have a little family to greet every day. And I’m willing to bet that they smile bigger than your coworkers.

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2 thoughts on “Say their names

  1. […] waves in the rest of my life. When we went out to somewhere new, you took the time to learn and call people by name to help them see how important they are to you. You were great to everyone around you, even people […]

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