I stumbled upon this blurb in Oprah Magazine. It was the 2nd thing listed in an
article titled 20
Things Everyone Should Master by Age 40
How to Comfort Someone
By Jimmy Vecere, bartender at 12th Street Irish Pub, Philadelphia
We’re a block from a hospital, so in my 31 years here I’ve met many people who’ve just received bad news. If you see someone in distress, don’t hesitate to talk to them. Once you’ve heard their story, sometimes all you have to say is “I’ll be thinking of you.” Your words are more powerful than you think.
So simple. If you see someone you don’t know struggling, just go up and ask them ‘How’s everything going?’
Other than bartenders, who really does this?
Come to think of it my mother, Barbara, did. God forbid, you sat next to her on a train or plane or stood in line for a coffee. Or, more likely, God bless you. Within minutes, she would pull your life story out of you like a hot knife through butter. If I was picking her up, she would introduce me to her new best friend, and then say goodbye usually with a fond embrace. On the drive home she’d tell me everything thing she learned about this stranger-no-more.
My mother would have been a great bartender.
I recently read an article in the business section of the San Diego Union Tribune written by a self-proclaimed authority on how to deal with star employees whose performance has dropped off. i.e. Struggling. In big bold letters was this admonition: Never ever ask the employee about any personal issues they may be having. Bring in your Human Resources Department to deal with that.
Seriously? I’m sure this may be a relief to some supervisors and managers. They don’t have to have these “awkward” conversations with someone they probably know better than anyone else in the company. Let HR deal with it. Pass the buck.
Sorry- I had to vent. I cringe at our proclivity to further distance ourselves from what has already become an engrained self-reluctance to talk with one another about the tough subjects and those “personal” issues.
This leads to another question. How do you know if someone is struggling; particularly someone you don’t know? In our post HEAL-What does that even mean? I wrote about how we all wear masks around people we’ve just met; and even folks we know well.
When we meet someone at a party, I’m not going lead with “Hey, our son was killed 10 years ago.” And they probably won’t open with “Phil has cancer and I’m on the verge of a nervous breakdown.”
You get what I mean. Many situations are meant to be light and breezy. Everyone has their masks on, and that’s OK. It’s going to be hard to spot someone who is struggling—he’s either got his mask on tight, or he didn’t attend.
Then there are other situations and circumstances when it’s OK to open that door with someone we just met. There’s a vibe, a feeling. It’s hard to explain, so I’ll give you an example.
Hilary and I recently met my cousin and uncle for dinner in Encinitas. If we’re going to have a few glasses of wine we Uber, and that Friday was no exception.
On the ride over we chatted with our driver, a young man I guessed in his mid-twenties. We learned he was a private English tutor of students from other countries. He asked me what I did, and I told him I was recently retired. He pressed, and I told him I was a lawyer for 42 years.
“So, what do you do in retirement?”
“Travel, golf, hike, read newspapers and have coffee in bed in the morning— I write.”
He probed. “What do you write about? Fiction, non-fiction? Do you write books?”
I’m thinking, ‘Wait a minute, has my mother reincarnated as a tutor and Uber driver?’
Well, he asked…and I got that feeling…
“I write about grief, loss, love and light. [Pause] Our 24 year old son, Jimmy, was accidentally struck and killed by an automobile ten years ago. He was a professional writer and somehow, someway, he put his pen in my hand. He is a strong, playful, spirit, and he has gone out of his way to tell us and show us he’s OK.”
I told him about my dad’s death by suicide.
I briefly explained how I turned the “things” that happened to and for us into stories that I wrote and shared with family and friends, which morphed into a website, and then a book.
“What’s the title of your book?”
“Suffering Is the Only Honest Work.”
He said, “Sounds Buddhist, to me. I’ve been reading a lot recently about spiritualism and meditation.”
I explained Jimmy was a student of Buddhism and how I “borrowed” for the book the title of the powerful poem he wrote shortly after he ran the 2007 Los Angeles Marathon.
He said, “Jimmy sounds like an amazing guy. I recently lost my dad and I’ve been having a hard time coming to terms with his death. I also have a good friend who just lost someone she was really close to.”
By this time we were pulling up to the restaurant. My uncle and cousin were in the car ahead of us.
I said, “I’d like to send you a couple of copies of our book for you and your friend.”
He said, “I’d really like that. I can pay you.”
“No, thanks. Please write down your email address and I’ll follow up and get your address.”
As he handed me a 3 by 5 index card he said, “I think this ride-share was meant to happen.”
I got a little jolt of goosebumps as I read his name.
I shook his hand and, with a shake of my head as I exited the car, said,
“Of course your name would be JAMES.”
Oh, and I forgot to mention, we were now standing in front of my mother’s favorite restaurant, Firenze Trattoria.
I think I might have caught a glimpse of her on the patio smiling at me with two thumbs up.