|Image via Pixabay|
I recently started working in a hospital. It's actually a community health center attached to a public hospital, but I have to walk through the main building each shift. There's something very comforting about a hospital. I probably don't need to articulate it. It is simply an environment that levels everything. People are being born, they are unwell, they are tending to loved ones or they are dying. People are working in service of others. On every level; whether they're performing life saving surgery, providing care and support, answering questions at the front desk, making food and coffee or emptying bins and cleaning floors. There is something really special about being a part of that workforce community. I find myself smiling the minute I walk through the doors. I feel myself being extra polite and helpful. I start up conversations with strangers in the lift all the time, AND IT'S RECIPROCATED!
The other day at work wasn't especially significant. I work two days a week and keep as busy as I can for most of the day. The community health center provides services to children from birth to 18 years of age. There are a range of services provided through the public health system for people living in the local area, ranging from speech and hearing assessments, occupational and physiotherapy, paediatric and developmental services, mental health and child protection. I work in the administration section. There are always children around and it feels familiar, comforting and sometimes soothingly chaotic. I sometimes think about my own children when I'm at work. When I'm distracted and busy, they're out of my thoughts, which has given me a balance and freedom from the constant attention required when looking after young children, that I could feel swallowing me up before I got back into the workforce. Going back to work wasn't easy. It took seven months, more than 60 applications and only a handful of interviews, before I finally hit the jackpot. I found myself over qualified and too old for a job that was only two days a week. Those jobs tend to go to school leavers and 20 year olds that employers can underpay. The jobs I was qualified for required shift availability and flexibility on my part, and this time I was inflexible and unavailable. After a couple of decades of being completely at the mercy of employment, I finally had to put my foot down and wait for a role that was accommodating to me and my family's needs. I know it is temporary and I will someday be able to give more, but that time is not right now.
When I'm idle at work, or it's a quiet part of the day, I think about and miss the kids. This is healthy. The resentment I used to feel about being at home all the time has melted away. Even when I knew it wasn't going to be forever and I should have been loving every minute of being with my babies, I didn't. Sometimes I fucking hated it to the point of desperation. Every mother does. How could you not? Being a stay at home parent is relentless, exhausting and isolating. Someone once suggested I should "get a real job" instead and I laughed and I laughed. He was right. A real job pays you, gives you a lunch break, unlimited toilet and coffee breaks and you get to clock off and go home at the end of the day. Being at home with little kids doesn't.
When I hear babies crying at work or a fussy toddler, I smile and think about my kids. I'm empathetic towards the (usually) mothers who are flustered and tired, dragging their kids to the appointments and it makes me feel grateful that my mind is at rest that my kids are at a good daycare, being taken care of, having fun and learning. I wish the workers who have looked after my children were paid better, valued and appreciated more. I wish the care service industry treated its workers with more respect and recognised how vital those services are to a prosperous community. I see pregnant women or new mums at work on a regular basis and my heart remembers that feeling with nostalgia, but also a little bit of relief that it has passed. It was so hard sometimes. Rewarding, but not properly acknowledged or supported and very hard.
I'm acutely aware that I am also surrounded by illness and death. I see patients hooked up to drips, I walk past the radiotherapy ward and walk through the floor that contains the mortuary. I see sadness on the faces of some of the people that walk past me. Expressions of worry, fear and despair.
The one thing I have noticed a lot since starting work, is that people look you directly in the eyes at a hospital. More so than say in a shopping center or when you're walking past someone in the street. I have a habit of making eye contact. I have big eyes and I can't help it. I remember someone once saying that it was very disconcerting and it isn't something that you are supposed to do with strangers. I think I complained to him that nobody ever smiled and he told me it was because it was unusual to expect eye contact from a stranger, let alone acknowledgement with a smile. I was honestly taken aback. Why? Why was it unusual to connect with someone even momentarily? I hadn't expected to exchange numbers and become best friends, but you know, an appropriate level of recognition that we were sharing the same space was normal, I thought. I get it now. I'm older and wiser. I don't always feel like making that connection either and must appear aloof or rude sometimes too, and I don't care. Perhaps I was worried about being judged before and smiled at everyone all the time. I don't do that anymore.
But at work, in the hospital, it feels like the opportunity and the need to do that presents itself more often. And I really like it. It feels good. It's a powerful thing when we connect with others, even for a moment. I always leave work feeling great. Like I contributed something and had meaningful exchanges. It makes me a better person, and not only is it because I work in a hospital, whilst that does add to the significance, it's the power of working in the service industry. I have always worked in a service based industry. Whether it was food service, or community service, or public service. It was those jobs that allowed me to contribute something useful to others and it made me feel good. It motivated me to do good and to value moments when I was in receipt of another person's service.
We need to put more importance on being of service to others. Not in a self-serving and self-righteous sort of way, but by understanding that altruism is healthy and necessary, that kindness is vital and crucial, and that helping each other is actually our natural state. We too often get roped into thinking that it's every person for themselves and that's the only way to get ahead because nobody would do it for you. That's utter bullshit. Everyone has at one time or another been helped. Help is readily available if we are just willing to find a source, ask for it, and receive it gracefully. Opportunities to give are everywhere and really simple. There is no need for aggrandisement. Slowing down to let someone into your lane in traffic, letting someone with less items in front of you in the supermarket queue, holding a door open, giving up your seat...too easy. When we feel strong and the opportunity presents itself, do good, and pass it on. Guaranteed, it will come back your way when you need it too. Then you start to notice those moments more and the laws of attraction kick in. Maybe it's just a slight shift in awareness, but at work it happens all the time. If I go about my day with a positive attitude, willing to help others, being mindful of the people around me and their feelings and needs, I then notice when my needs are being met. I'm bringing this attitude home to my children the three days I'm with them too. I don't have that feeling of isolation and enclosure anymore. I have more patience and I'm more willing to find the silver lining when things get tough. I still understand the massive discrepancy in society when it comes to women's roles both at home and in the workplace. That inequality is still not resolved and is far from balanced, but I feel like I have struck a balance in my own life that is allowing me to contribute to the lives of others so that they may benefit too.
Most of the time we blend in like the grey umbrellas, but when we can, we can choose to be the yellow one.