Saturday, November 26, 2011

Giving Thanks in the Laundry Room

I suppose it's time for another holiday-themed posting. It is Thanksgiving, after all. I could waste your time by listing all of the things I’m thankful for, but that doesn’t make for very interesting reading, as the list would be terribly cliché – family, friends, blessings and amenities – the same things everyone else is thankful for. I’ve had a really wonderful Thanksgiving break and have been able to rest and relax with my wonderful family and amazing friends. But I think that my most memorable Thanksgiving experiences this year took place not at the dining room table or in the kitchen or the living room, but in the laundry room, on the evening before Thanksgiving. I don’t know the woman’s name, or anything about her at all, really. I wish now that I did.

On the evening before Thanksgiving, the phone rang. I glanced at the caller ID and recognized the signature name of a telemarketer. I told my dad not to answer it, that it was just a sales call, but he picked it up anyway. A moment later, he handed the phone to me. I forget that I’m an adult now and thus am subject to these kinds of calls. I took the call wearily and heard a voice on the other end that sounded even more tired than I felt. She told me that she represented my bank and had a few questions to ask. My first instinct was to politely refuse, but I began to think about how many people had refused her that night. What a terrible time to make survey calls – on the night before Thanksgiving, when people are traveling or arriving or greeting or cooking or eating or doing anything but answering survey questions. I had time. I could take her survey.

As I did a (much needed) load of laundry, I answered this woman’s questions over the phone. She asked me about my experiences at the bank and I ranked them on a numerical scale. Her voice was monotone during the entire interaction. At times I thought that she could be a recording, but then she would stumble a bit over her script and I would remember that she was very human. Nevertheless, she maintained her colorless tone until the very end. It wasn’t until I said goodbye and wished her a happy Thanksgiving that I heard something in her voice. When she said “Thank you,” I heard so much more than that. I heard real loneliness, real gratitude, and real humanity. I heard the real her.

I don’t suppose it is much of a stretch to assume that this woman might not be traveling to visit family on Thanksgiving. It’s possible, I’m sure, that her family and friends came to her, but even then she was still working during the holidays. I imagine she might have felt very lonely. Telemarketing could be the most sociable job in the world. You literally spend all day talking to people on the phone – a dream job when I was in high school. And yet how many times was she rejected daily? How many people listened to her voice and said, “No. No, I don’t want to hear what you have to say, and I don’t want to talk to you.”

I’m not arguing that we should accept every sales call and every survey. It’s annoying, I know, and quite frankly, it can be a bit ridiculous at times. What I am saying is that it is important that I not forget who is on the other end of the line. I should not forget to be grateful for even the people who don’t play a central role in my life. How easy is it to pretend that other people aren’t real – that they are robots, recordings, phantoms of our imagination or a product of a world consumed with advertising?

So this Thanksgiving, I’m thankful. I’m thankful for people – real, living, breathing people who eat and cry and love and laugh. I’m thankful for the people in my life who do all these things and more with me. I’m thankful for the people I meet for only a moment and never see again. I’m thankful for that woman somewhere in America who spent the evening before Thanksgiving calling people she didn’t know and asking them questions she didn’t care about. I sincerely hope she had a good Turkey Day.

So I guess I gave you a list after all.

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