Today at work an elderly lady in watermelon-pink lipstick and curled white hair stumbled forwards with her basket of groceries. She handed me a single white envelope. ‘Dear,’ she murmured, her eyes crinkling around the edges, ‘would you mind posting this for me? Would that be alright?’ I took the letter and adjusted my route home, popping the handwritten letter into the post box. It was a small, effortless gift for this lady I did not know, but I felt somewhat humbled. Good karma, kindness, whatever you want to call it. It feels like you’re doing something good for the universe, a microscopic piece in the Compassion Jigsaw of the world. If it were a scene in a children’s picture book, such little goodness would spring a little invisible rainbow onto the street, and glimmer for a few seconds. Like the earth is smiling.
Twice week I babysit, playing mum for a few hours to two young boys. Last week, the five year old dropped a drinking glass in his playroom. Tiny shards surrounded his monster drawing and over the surrounding floorboards, like solid drops of rain had fallen through the ceiling. Struggling to locate a dust pan and broom, I picked them up piece by piece. Blood flowed from my forefinger, dripped onto his green texta monster. “Wait here,” the boy shouted, his voice drifting away. “I’ll help you! I’ll get you a special bandaid!” He gently laid a Disney ‘Kung Fu Panda’ plaster over my cut, and then beamed. “I fixed it! All better now.” I watched him return to his Lego pieces, and felt a surprising tug of love and appreciation somewhere in my chest.
I’ll be the first to admit that they’re not glamorous jobs. They’re the typical university student work, the things no one else wants to do. The low rates, the repetitious scanning. I am often sprayed by customers at the supermarket checkout. Just some girl packing my shopping, I can see the important business man thinking. I chase after the younger boy on the walk home from school, and he screams in my ear every time that he Will Not Hold Hands, so I grab him firmly on sleeve of his shoulder and tug him dutifully across the road.
Yet, I think casual work is such a humbling experience. Important in its own right. There are times when I positively loathe it. But there is so much value in seeing what it’s like at the bottom of the scale, being the last rung of the employee ladder.
At uni in first semester I learnt about the proletariat and the bourgeois. The exploitation of the workers, the corrupt systems, capitalism I understand what it all truly means a bit more after experiencing these jobs. I feel it in my feet, when they ache after standing for four hours in the one spot without a break, and in my fists, that I clench when self checkout machines reduce my shifts to a measly once a week.
But how would I know any other way if I did not do these jobs myself, if I did not rely on them for my own weekly salary? Of course, it makes me more motivated for my studies, to yearn for a job greater one day. But I’ll always remember what it feels like to be the casual worker, the checkout girl, the babysitter. I won’t ever treat her like a face behind a counter, or encourage my company to replace her hardworking hands with that of a voice in a machine.
Perhaps most of all, these jobs have shown me how much you have to work within yourself to make something so utterly boring into something… fulfilling. Feeling a lightness in my chest after helping an elderly couple take their shopping downstairs and into the carpark. Grinning when one of the kids declares the rice cracker with peanut butter I make for him as ‘absolutely delicious’.
The little things can be so beautiful.
~ When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.