Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Hello, My Name Is...

We hosted our annual Christmas Party for Office volunteers yesterday. Cathy plans and prepares the food for the whole thing. It's a hoot saying, "Merry Christmas" to very special people who make it possible for us to do what we do.

Problem. Second time in less than a week.

Our church has multiple services with quite a few people coming and going. These volunteers work on different days in different ways so this was bound to happen. Most of them didn't know everyone at the party.

But one very sweet lady hardly knew anyone. She knew a few staff, but no other volunteers.

I could tell when she walked in. It was that "deer in the headlights" look. She probably thought, "What am I doing here?" As people were getting food, I spoke to her. I made light of her being a stranger and promised that, by the time she left, she just might know some of us better than she wanted .

After lunch, we gathered in a large circle for one of those "White Elephant" gift exchanges. I saw her sitting with another lady. A woman with the same name as hers. They had each found a new friend.

It was obviously hard, but she's "in" now. The parting hug she shared with her new friend told me so.

Many times I am the one left out as friends gather in little groups for lively conversation. My work has a way of putting me in such places. Occasionally, a kind stranger will notice and include me.

I'm grateful. I want to be an includer, too.

How about you?


beckiwithani said...

My first year of teaching, I was at a brand-new school -- the same school I am at today. Around October or November, we had parents' night. One of our administrators, a woman just a year or two older than me, sent an email to the faculty saying we should all go out to dinner before we had to be back at school to meet parents. I enthusiastically signed up.

After that dinner, which several people attended, I found out that an equally-sized group -- of all teachers, no admin -- had organized their own dinner at a different restaurant. Obviously, I had not been invited. I was 28 years old, but it still hurt as if I were a middle school student being left out of the "in" crowd. In addition to feeling hurt, I was upset because I felt it was insensitive and unprofessional for a sizable chunk of the faculty (we only had 17 teachers at the time) to decide that the semi-officially-organized teacher-admin dinner was something that should be replaced by a "no administrators allowed" secret dinner.

Most of those teachers who were in the "in" group are no longer at the school -- in fact, I think only two of them are. And I'm one of the teacher leaders now, with administrative duties as well as teaching duties. My leadership position makes it impossible for me to be on equal footing with the newer teachers -- I mentor some new teachers, so I have to keep certain authority boundaries clear -- but I do my best to not contribute to any exclusive teacher cliques. I find it very telling that, when I read this blog post, that dinner over three years ago was the very first thing that came to my mind. The "in" crowd teachers have probably forgotten it, and probably never knew how it hurt me (and possibly others who had been excluded). But, even though the two remaining "in" teachers are now the other two teacher leaders / mentors at the school, and we all get along very well (they are forgiven!), I don't think I'll ever forget that night.

C. Beth said...

I was so much more shy and insecure when I was a kid. And of course junior high was a hard time, as it seems to be for most kids. I remember one semester, at least for part of the time, I didn't have anyone to sit with at lunch. It was so hard. I would eat as fast as I could just so that I could go outside and escape that stigma I felt from sitting alone.

I wish someone had befriended me. I hope now I make a point to befriend people who are alone. I think after reading this it'll be more on my mind, and I'll be more aware of it.

Great post, Dad.

Before I'm hitting "Publish" I read Becki's reply. It seems a lot of us (dare I say most of us?) have memories of being that person on the outside. Maybe it's just part of the human experience, but I think it can work positively by helping us identify with others in that situation.

Sam said...

My two daughters have made my day! You both responded with stories I didn't know or had forgotten. Either way, I'm moved by the emotion of your experiences. Thank you for sharing them.

At the Elder/Pastor/Wife Christmas Party last weekend, mom (Cathy) and I were some of the last ones to get our food. We looked around at tables already packed with people and saw one table for eight that was empty. We could have squeezed in to seats with others, but there were still about 5 or 6 who were behind us -- we wanted them to have that option.

We knew we might end up alone at that table. I told Cathy that I would feel far better with us by ourselves than I would if I saw someone else that way. We could have a "romantic dinner for two" in the midst of the crowd.

Within a couple minutes, our table was filled also.

Dina said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dina said...

I recently started waiting tables a few nights a week at a new restaurant by our house. I was hired late, so all of the other servers had gone through initial training together and already knew each other pretty well. I'm always a little shy in new situations and having not waited tables since I was in my 20's, I felt like the odd man out. I was so grateful that most everyone welcomed me in immediately. Since then, a few other new servers have been hired and I've tried to welcome them in the same manner. So far the job has been a blessing - I've met some great people, it's a great way to supplement the financial ups and downs of freelance writing and I still get to spend days at home with our 2-year-old. The only downfall is I have less time with my husband, but the time we do have seems to count more.

Also, not since leaving my corporate job have I had to learn to work with so many different personalities. It's a good reminder that most everyone likes to be a part of a team, even if friendships outside of work are unlikely. Sam, your story is a good reminder that we should always make an attempt to welcome strangers and to be open to being welcomed ourselves when we are the strangers. We all have a need to feel like we're part of the group and not the "invisible man" that goes unnoticed.

Sandra said...

I do think you need to have experienced being the outsider, to really be able to understand the need to reach out to others! I love my husband, but he doesn't have the same inclination to do that that I do, because he has always lived in the same area and always known alot of people around him. Although, he has become more that way, because he's seen it through my eyes.