What Work Has Taught Me

What Work Has Taught Me

Earnest the dish guy and everyday interactions that make our lives

UNF Dining Service

This week has taught me, more than anything else, that every individual has their own story; no one is boring.

Standing in the dish room of the main eating facility for the University of North Florida I was shocked to learn that our very own dish worker had written, not just one, but three books on everything from love to philosophical thinking. His name is Earnest and he is an amazing and inspiring man with the kindest smile that seems to radiate regardless of however tired he might be. He told me about his thoughts, let me listen to some of his readings from his newest book and even gave me pointers on writing. Before he left for the day he passed me a question scrawled in red pen on a folded paper towel, something to ponder in my free time. It read, "How can you find my love from yesterday, when you can't see it again anymore because, that day becomes a past to history?"

What he meant was that our love, our expressions of it, our verbal announcements of it, are completely ephemeral. We might say to a loved one "I love you so much!" after they do a particularly kind or loving act for us, like maybe purchasing a thoughtful gift or helping with a household task, but years will go by and when you think about that person, will you remember all these things and the reasons you love them? Will you still love them the same amount in a month as you had in that moment? A newly dating couple might spend hours talking and sharing their thoughts and past experiences with one another but, once they have been married for a decade will they still remember all these little, special things that brought them together in the first place? Does the value of love fade away as time passes? Obviously a very deep, almost unanswerable question and certainly one that will keep me thinking for days!

What was really important about my time talking with Earnest, and really the time I've spent talking to all my coworkers and even the students that come in to dine at UNF, is the realization that we are all individuals. As cheesy as it sounds, one of the best parts of working where I do is the constant opportunity to get glimpses of other people's lives, their thoughts, and their feelings. In some way, I am always blown away at how many different situations and paths life can bring, but what is truly amazing is finding all the small things so many people share. Despite where people come from, what past they have, what ailments they may or may not deal with everyone seems to light up at the simple question, "how are you?" Every day I have the opportunity to reach out and learn, not skills or academic subjects, but just about others.

I've learned about Nick and his soon-to-be sister-in-law who works with environmental law in Oregon, I've learned about Raymond and how much he loves music and hates being bombarded by people, I've learned about Jessica who always says she's just getting by but lights up when you know her name, I've learned about Samuel who is a grown man earning his degree in political science and who loves talking and giving food suggestions. And now I have learned about Earnest, who is a hardworking dish man by night and philosophical writer/thinker by day, whose note stays tacked to my whiteboard and who has inspired this very article.

And every day I come into work I am excited to see what new things I can learn, what new connections I can make with those around me. There may not be a degree for what all these things teach me, but if life isn't these small connections with others then I don't what it is.

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