Dignifying People and their Stories

When I first met Mary, she was wearing her work uniform and had a small broom with dust pan in hand. As I approached her to introduce myself, Mary’s face lit up. She could light up a dark stadium!

After the cordial introductions, I asked Mary what she did at the dealership and proceeded to tell me about washing and drying cars, sweeping the lot, cleaning the rims of very expensive cars. While she was articulate, I noticed some mannerisms that made me wonder. She’d look away when talking, was a bit fidgety, and tended to slur her words a bit, with speech pattern changing from time to time.

I was formally introduced to Mary but found out that she has down syndrome and works through an agency that helps to place and employ intellectually disabled people who mainly have down syndrome.

I was a bit embarrassed that I didn’t pick up on social cues, mainly because I was struck by Mary’s joyful presence and warm smile.

But Mary has taught me how to be a better corporate chaplain. Every day that I see her, she shares a story of her family. A Mexican-American, Mary’s stories are filled with family outings and celebrations she’s planning to attend. She tells me about her trips to Disneyland and how she got a new phone. Mary values her family deeply, consistently asking for prayers to be lifted for members who are sick, a dying relative, or someone who got into an accident.

Mary and her coworkers have taught me to slow down and not take myself so seriously. Their playful and hardworking attitude have set me straight more than once in the 13 years I’ve known them. To be honest, sometimes I’m in a rush and I see Mary dashing towards me, ready to tell me about how she’s going on a road trip up north to see family and will be very detailed about the whole anticipation. The only way we end is when she asks for prayers for safe travels. And even after that social cue that the conversation is over, Mary will add one more fun outing she’s gonna take and then leaves with a smile on her face. But she reminds me to slow down and be grateful for life and family.

Her vulnerability has caused me to slow down and be mindful of my own. She’s helped me be more human through our interactions. I wish I could hide sometimes and only show my strengths and productive, high performance skills. I wish I didn’t struggle with ego, being impulsive, or not feeling good enough for the task at hand. And yet, owning my own vulnerabilities is somehow helping me dignify and love others. Mary and her crew keep teaching me to smile and not take myself too seriously.

The workplace can suck the life out of us. “Dead”-lines. Being viewed as a producer and performer, not a human. I hope that I can be a dignifying presence that sees people for who they really are: loved.

Disclaimer: Some names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.