I wish I could write a self-mocking post in which I parodied myself, made fun of the fact that I care about this at all. But I can't. I tell the truth, and the truth is that I'm upset- no, I'm pretty angry, which goes further than upset- about this.
As you may know, there are two newspapers published at Yeshiva University. One of them is pretty famous, The Commentator. The other one, The Observer, is not often read at all. As a result, The Observer wants controversy. Give us blood! Give us guts! Give us vim and venom, and we shall be happy.
Well, I can do controversy very well. But I don't do contoversy simply to stir-up shark-infested waters. I do it when I feel it's necessary, when I feel like I am telling the truth.
And honestly, the first article I wanted to write was going to be a highly angry, irritated one.
Except that my parents really didn't want me to start out that way, and preferred that the first article I wrote be nice. Polite. Kind. Just so I could start off on the right foot.
And since at the point in time when I wrote the article, nothing of great import had occurred (read- this was before the Darfur Rally, the Israel Rally, the Organ Donor Conference, etc,) I picked the first topic that came to mind- the first one that had any sort of impact on me. And I knew when I submitted it that it might not be okay, it might not be news-worthy, because it really wasn't news so much as an observation, something I thought and felt, an editorial type of piece. Perhaps it really didn't and doesn't belong in the newspaper.
But don't I deserve to be told it doesn't belong there?
Oughtn't I to be informed that the article was refused, cut, and so on and so forth? Firstly, because by that time things of import HAD occurred, and there's a pretty good chance I could have written some interesting things about the speeches and events I had attended which were news-worthy, and secondly so I wouldn't feel like a humiliated idiot, the way I do now.
Not that I went around telling the whole WORLD I was going to be published in the newspaper, but sure, I was pretty happy and did tell some people to expect a simple article from me.
And now I feel, as you can tell, humiliated. Embarrassed. And when I'm embarrassed, of course, I get angry as opposed to feeling contrite.
Now supposedly the chief editor informed the opinions editor that my article wasn't good. But she never followed up to make sure I was told, and she didn't CC me on the email. So I got the shock of my life when The Observer came out and I realized that all my friends and companions had published articles...while mine did not exist.
Now, I freely admit in retrospect that my article was really NOT an article. It wasn't about a news-worthy topic. It may not have belonged in a newspaper. I RESPECT THAT. But I also want to be TOLD about this in advance! I don't want to be made to feel like a bumbling incompetent idiot who can't even write well enough to be published by the no-good newspaper.
Nobody likes feeling inadequate, and I like it least of anyone. But this isn't even inadequacy....this is shame. Because I'm the one who is supposed to be good at English. Who is supposed to be good at this. And yet my article? Doesn't make it in.
Yeah, I'm not feeling too happy right now. I actually feel pretty lousy.
Here, by the way, is the article. And by the way? I really meant it when I wrote it. I still mean it. I don't write things to be a cutesy-nice good Jew. I write them because I think they're true. And I am willing to accept that this piece doesn't belong in the newspaper. It's not even really written in a journalistic style. Well, what do I know? This is my first time here! Just please, do me the favor of telling me first. So I'm not embarrassed in public. Like I am now.
The Invisible People
There are people we ignore as we pass by, preoccupied with our schedules, our lives, the newest events taking place and affecting our loved ones. We do not ignore them out of malice, but simply because we cannot take the time to notice them, bogged down with work and exams the way we are. They are people we see everyday, people we might think of momentarily as we dance through our day, but they are not people we truly consider.
We do not consider their lives, their ideas, their philosophies, what it is that makes them special or makes them important. We do not even really see them; for all we know, they are wholly invisible. And this is sad, because these people are special, and we spend much of the day in their company.
These are the cafeteria workers.
Three meals a day (or contrived snacks, instead, for when one has no time). Three stops as we pass by these men and women, looking at them for a moment as we request our food, sometimes making faces at it or commenting upon its odd or intriguing appearance. We try to cajole them into giving us what we want; two sides of rice instead of the green beans, an extra fish patty instead of rice. We may joke with them for a moment but we promptly forget them, dancing along to our classes, chattering on our cell-phones, wandering about aimlessly in search of people we know so that we will not sit alone in the cafeteria.
What makes these people important to me? Why do I notice them? It is in their faces, their calm demeanor as frightening crowds of people rush against them, pushing against glass windows to stare at the contents concealed within. They have spoken to me, wished me a good day and told me that since I am sweet, they will be sweet with me. They have thanked me. They have acted as people in every sense of the world, people who are funny and sincere and fabulous, and yet, somehow, the majority of us treat them as living machines.
As I have previously mentioned, it is not done out of malice. I do not believe that those assembled here are cruel, and ignore our cafeteria personnel out of some snobbish sense of self-righteousness. It is simply because we want our food, and we are irritated when it does not come as it should come. We are upset when the sleeves for the hot cocoa or coffee are missing and we burn our fingers, annoyed when we run out of ketchup, tap our feet impatiently when there is no more ice.
And yet who do we think sets up this cafeteria for us? Little gnomes or elves who dash about in the mornings to make it pretty? There are people, real people, spending their time putting out forks so that there will be enough for all of us. Did you ever consider how many forks students use per one day? After two meals or so, everything has to be replaced. Continously replaced.
There are so many aspects to the cafeteria. In many ways, it is the main cultural center, the meeting-place, where we bump into friends, acquaintances, perhaps enemies, where we read signs posted merrily on walls in attempts to locate books we’d like to buy or events we’d like to attend. We stop by multicolored sprinkled cupcakes and hear about various clubs. Food and talk, this is the cafeteria, with the occasional reader or homework-doer sitting quietly as well.
But who is it that prepares our food? That serves it to us, listening to our complicated requests? Who replaces forks, knives, spoons, sets out sandwiches and yogurt each morning? Who pours the soup into the tureens, prepares the scrambled eggs, sits patiently at the register and swipes our cards? Who sees us at our best and worst, smiling as we thank them for our lunch or scowling fiercely as we yell at an unseen-person on the phone? The cafeteria workers have seen us at our best and worst, at our most insensitive and our most grateful. They bear silent witness to all that we are, and also what we are not.
How many of us wish them a good morning? Do we inquire after their health? Are they satisfied here? Are they happy with us? Not all of them are. For example, one worker stated that it is unfair that students treat them as though they are waiters and waitresses. If this were a restaurant, the waiters would indeed clean up after the students. Not so in college. “Your mother doesn’t work here,” a sign at Great Chicago, a hometown restaurant, used to say, “so clean up after yourself.” It is appalling to see the strewn cups, Styrofoam containers and condiments, lying scattered about tablecloths when there are about ten garbage containers specifically set aside for those contents. How hard is it for a student to pick up her Styrofoam bowl and throw it in the trashcan on her way out?
But we prioritize. We’re in a rush, or perhaps we assume the workers have nothing better to do than act as servants, hanging on our every beck and call. After all, we rationalize, they’ll have to clean up the tablecloths anyway. Who cares if I leave my mess everywhere? The fact is, they do, because you create large and unnecessary amounts of work for them when all they want to do, like us, is return home and conclude the end to a very long day.
So appreciate the cafeteria workers. Appreciate them for the insights they doubtless have about us, about our characters, about who we are and what we are. They know us very well, for they see us each day, three times a day. Do you notice them? Do you say hello? If you did, perhaps you might come to know them, too. You might come to realize the beautiful, wonderful job they do; the kindness that they have. The workers I have seen never fail to wish me a good day, to smile at me, even to tease me and claim that they’ll call my parents because I’m not eating my vegetables. These are people, people with a sense of humor, of justice, of values, real people who are just as good- if not better- than we are.
They are beautiful, beautiful people. And I thank them so much for all that they do, for their smiles, their buoyant comments, the way they are able to impact my day so positively…without even trying.