I work at the state capitol building. Every day, powerful people — fancy people, who were elected or appointed to their position — walk into that building wearing creaseless suits and shiny ties. Sure, you notice them. They are gathered in little circles, much like grade school kids at recess, except you have to think they’re talking about something important.
They are easy to notice. They have irregular routines and they have challenging jobs. They walk around with purpose and with pride, and they smile at virtually everyone who walks by because that one smile could be a vote.
But they aren't the only people who work in the building. In fact, the juxtaposition is hard to miss — fancy people working in the same building as cafeteria employees and the custodians. While the important people deal with ideas and concepts, these people deal with things. They vacuum the floors, refill the water fountain and make me the most wonderful egg-and-cheese sandwich a kid could ask for.
These people are, without question, thought of as less important — or at least their job is thought of as less important. But behind that job is a person, and I imagine they find some self worth in what they do. So I wonder how this situation makes that person feel.
A few months ago, a new woman started working in the cafeteria. She said she was happy to have the job, because she has a little girl to support. She said she wanted to go back to school. She wanted to make her daughter proud. But as the weeks passed by, her energy faded and her hope was suffocated by the weight of the time she will have to spend here to get to where she wants to be.
I guess I relate to these people, because I often see myself as someone who can fake myself into a fancy party — but would probably fit in better with the servers out back. I recognize the defeated gait and the desperate sighs. I see the fading pride and the tatttered self worth. I want to tell them that I get it — that they shouldn’t give up the hope. I want to tell them that some night school, a few loans and 14-hour days could get them to where they want to be.
But then I see myself in the mirror.
I’m wearing a shirt and tie. I’m ordering an egg sandwich. I’m watching the 60-year-old custodian lift a jug into the water cooler, and almost throw out his back. I make money while sitting in a chair. I can sift through job listings without feeling overwhelmed. I have a résumé. I have savings. I never worry about bills. I can go the bathroom, without my boss yelling at me for the line at the register getting too long. I can take a walk in the middle of the day if I feel overwhelmed, and my boss will actually encourage it. I can take vacations and work from home and choose my hours. I could choose to go back to school to change careers. I have no loans. I come home and relax.
I look myself in the mirror, and I can fit in at the fancy party and talk to the fancy people and look the fancy part. I look myself in the mirror, and there is no juxtaposition between me and the fancy people.