Monday, May 23, 2011

Live Simply

When we moved to Minnesota for Mike to attend seminary, one of the first things I had to do was look for a job.  So, as Mike and I walked around exploring the campus, I was also looking for a place to work.  At that time I wasn't yet a nurse and typing was my most marketable skill.  I inquired at several offices on campus and then before we headed back to our apartment, we stopped in to the explore the bookstore.  We had our 4 yr old daughter and our newborn son with us at the time.

The campus bookstore was in the basement of a wonderful old building.  Although the building was really pretty, the basement was not.  It was crowded and seemed a bit like a dungeon full of books.  The shelves were close together because this store had a LOT of books.  Besides providing books directly to students, the seminary bookstore had a large mail order business.  The workers, typing orders and wrapping packages, were crowded into a messy space that to me seemed even more dismal.

I spoke with the manager of the bookstore and indeed, they were looking for someone who could type.  If I remember correctly, he pretty much offered me a job on the spot.  I said I would think about it and get back to him.  His name was Jennings and I am ashamed to say that I did not immediately see his charm.  He spoke in sort of an abrupt manner with kind of a gravely voice and I felt a little afraid of him.  As we climbed the stairs out of the basement I remember exactly what I said to Mike, "Please don't make me work there."  (For the record, that was just a way of expressing my opinion at the time.  Mike has never forced me into labor.)

What I don't remember is what happened after that but I did indeed end up working there.  My first day on the job was actually an evening.  I started about the time the rest of the workers were leaving.  I was shown a typewriter on a desk with stacks of books packed all around a little u-shaped area.  Jennings, who was handicapped, sat at his desk which was kind of situated right by that little u-shaped area.  As all the other employees started leaving, I felt a little uncomfortable sitting and typing quite so close to Jennings.  Remember, we are in a kind of scary basement and I didn't yet know this man.  Also, Jennings ate garlic everyday.

My panic level rose when, once it was just the two of us there, Jennings started to take off his shirt.  My thoughts were something like this, "I bet he's not even really handicapped!"  "I'm trapped!"  "Help!"  I was really terrified!  Thankfully, before I screamed and made a fool of myself, Jennings reached into a bag or a drawer or something and pulled out another shirt.  After he put that on he gathered his things and left.  It turns out, Jennings often put on a fresh shirt before heading home to his wife. 

Well, I ended up working in that bookstore the whole time Mike was in seminary, and I cried when I had to leave.  Obviously I am not too skilled at judging first impressions because I came to love Jennings and learned a lot of interesting things from him.  One lesson that really stuck with me was to waste nothing.

Previously, I'd been an executive secretary in a pretty building with pretty desks and pretty stationery and windows that looked out onto a pretty view.  At the bookstore, we saved junk mail and envelopes.  When we wrote to a customer, we blacked out the pre-printed addresses on the envelopes and wrote the new address to the side.  We took junk mail letters, crossed out the pre-printed words and wrote our letters on the back.  We weren't looking to impress anyone, we were just getting our message sent without wasting resources.

I came to learn that the bookstore staff was kind of like a family.  Besides Jennings, I got to know Terry, the assistant manager.  He has become one of my best lifelong friends.  The other employees were mostly all students or their spouses.  Jennings and Terry managed the most difficult of schedules to accomodate everyone's classes.  That is, in fact, how I started working there during the evenings.  They were trying to help so that I'd work when Mike could be home with our kids.  During my years there I came to realize they bent over backwards for their employees.  These were truly good people.

Jennings was quite a character and one of the most interesting people I've ever known.  I came to see Jennings as a man of God, a family man, a businessman, and a good friend.  I witnessed the grace with which he handled devastating experiences.  I also was the recipient of his kindness when our family went through some trials. 

When I was at his home once, I saw a poster that has stuck with me now for over 20 years.  It was...

I don't remember the style of the poster, or even the picture, but the words come back to me frequently.  Sometimes at inconvenient times, like when I want to buy things for myself that I don't really need.

Jennings really lived those words.

After we left Minnesota, Jennings continued to keep in touch, sending gifts to our children and letters to me, until his death.  He actually had atrocious handwriting but I learned to read it quite well.  I believed this helped me later in life to read doctors' notes. 

When I heard of Jennings death I knew the world had lost one of the great ones.

Like I said, that poster is something I think about quite a bit, actually.  Yes, it is catchy, but it can take on new meanings, depending on what situation you are facing.  Those words seem somewhat incongruent in this world where we are encouraged to look out for ourselves and to build careers and reach the top.

Do those words catch your attention at all?  Please tell me how you interpret them and how they might impact your choices.  I'm not always good at making choices to "live simply" but I like the sound of it.


emmy said...

Great advice. Thank you.

Maria Rose said...

I often think about this saying when I am being wasteful!

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