I got some bad news about a former co-worker and friend late last week. Her name was Ann. She had been battling cancer for a few months, bravely, but ultimately succumbed to pneumonia. It happened quickly; up until the end another co-worker and I were trying to set up a semi-regular lunch date we had kept for some time. To my alarm, I learned from the obituary she was 73. I knew she was probably old enough to retire if she had wanted to, but she was somebody who liked to stay busy.
Given a choice, I’m somebody who wouldn’t have a job if I didn’t have to. At least I say so now; who knows if I was really in that position? I suspect I wouldn’t miss the work, but I would miss the people. Having a real job has put me in a position to get to know all kinds of people, and to develop friendships with them. No, for the most part they aren’t ever going to be my “core” friends, or people that I’m going to let see me with my hair down, so to speak. But they are still friends, people that I care about, people that I in some cases admire and who make me smile and think about my own life as I learn a little bit about theirs.
But for my job, I wouldn’t have gotten to know somebody like Ann. Or, at least I wouldn’t have approached her as a friend or peer; I probably would have thought of her as somebody’s grandmother, which of course she was. But I would have viewed her as someone who I didn’t have anything in common with. But when you work with people, or otherwise give yourself a chance to know them, those barriers melt away somewhat. People become more than just a label like “old person” or “Republican” or “NASCAR fan” or whatever. That I even put those labels on people in the first place isn’t something I’m proud of, but I think we all tend to have a bit of a shorthand we use to categorize people, right or wrong.
But there’s always more than meets the eye. That crazy Republican might love birds and chess and cheap tacos as much as you do. That old grandma might have more courage than you ever knew was possible, and be pretty smart about what makes people tick. That NASCAR fan might be the only one who laughs at your jokes.
The funeral is tomorrow. It’ll be a sad day, but I’m glad I knew her, and I know she felt she had lived a fulfilling life. You could see it in her actions and the way she treated other people, every day.