By Laraine Paquette
There are no menial jobs, only menial attitudes.
~William J. Brennan
As I sat in my English as a second language class with my two students, I turned to the conversation part of the lesson. I was prepared to resume the topic of "offbeat jobs" that we had started in the previous class. First though, I asked M how he was doing in his new job as a car salesman at a large car dealership in the area. He told me that he was no longer working there but was looking for another job. Then I turned to my other student, an elderly man from Africa, and asked him about his job. "What is your job, E?" I asked.
He explained that he was on the cleaning staff at a nursing home. Then he went on to say that in his country, he had been the owner of an air conditioning business with several employees working for him, including engineers and technicians, whom he had personally trained, being an air conditioning expert himself. Unfortunately, due to political conditions in his country, the economy suffered greatly and it became more and more difficult for him to carry on his business, even though it had been successful for more than thirty years. Consequently, he retired, and decided to devote himself, as he put it, to preparation to meet God. And as is the custom in his country, he would depend on his children to support him in his old age.
However, there came a day when he wanted a change and he came to America. Some of his family already lived here. When he arrived, he realized that here in America everyone was expected to take care of him or herself and therefore, he needed to get a job. His wife had found a job as a cleaning person in a movie theater and he was able to get a job in the same place as an usher. He said that it was very humiliating at first, because his supervisors were young people, the same age as his own grandchildren, and they treated him very rudely and disrespectfully. But he told his wife that this was probably good for his soul. It was very humbling to be sure, but he, after all, had been an employer himself for so many years, directing those under him and now he had been given the opportunity to experience what it felt like to be the person at the bottom.
Eventually, he and his wife were able to find work in the nursing home facility, and he said that they are very thankful because they are able to work together. Also, he told us that he loves his work because he has the opportunity to show love and kindness to the residents of the nursing home, even if it is simply through his smile and kind words.
As he spoke, I felt my heart warmed by his story. I never imagined that this quiet stooped old man had had such a life and could share so much to encourage both the other student and myself. I told him that I believed that when he gets to heaven, God will put His arms around him and say, "Well done, good and faithful servant."
Many people would consider this man's job to be one of the lowliest in our society and would wonder how a man who had been an educated business owner could find peace and fulfillment in his present job. When he first came to this country, he was told that with a year of study, he could find a good job in his field of expertise, but he decided to choose a different path and he is very happy with the choice he made. He no longer carries on his shoulders the heavy burden of owning a business, and is able to spend his non-working hours in prayer and quiet contemplation or in spending time with his family.
I was deeply impressed by E's quiet faith and positive outlook. His words touched a chord in my own heart, because as a small business owner faced with the present economic instability, I suddenly felt a tremendous sense of peace. Even if we were to lose our business and our so-called security, there would always be a place for us somewhere where we could carry on loving God and people, in spite of circumstances.
Who would have guessed that the subject of "offbeat" jobs, designed to be an interesting, entertaining and humorous topic of discussion for the improvement of English conversation skills, would lead to the story of this precious man's experiences and open our eyes and hearts to a new perspective?