I Knew It, I Knew It, I Knew It!

By D.J.E. Newman • April 12, 2018

About five years ago, my employer was holding a gala charity dinner in our cafeteria to fundraise for the local hospice. The call went out for volunteers and I jumped at the chance to work with an industrial dishwasher again as I did throughout High School. At 30 years old and several years into my accounting career, it had been too long since I'd gotten my hands dirty. My wife and I were expecting our first child in a few months and I thought (correctly) that I wouldn't have much time for volunteering my evenings in the future so I needed to take advantage of this opportunity.

It was fun working a dishwasher again and I enjoyed the rhythm and solitude as the other staff wanted no part of dish washing. As dinner was being served to the guests, a trio of workers came to help others in the industrial kitchen. They weren't staff and I couldn't figure out why they were there. One of them mentioned something about they were working for their dinner – after the guests were served, the volunteers were treated to the same gourmet meal.

There was something different about them, they were all short in height, late-30s to mid-40s and wore Velcro shoes. In hindsight, perhaps afflicted with FASD although I'm not qualified to make that determination. They worked as a team, but had trouble following the kitchen instructions so I was asked by a frustrated organizer if they could work with me. I said, sure, I'd welcome the company. The organizer was relieved as I showed them how to load the dishwasher racks, run the machine, and unload.

The seemingly head of the team, a man with bright eyes and a thin mustache seemed to be aware that his gang was out of place and in the way in the kitchen. He reminded me so much of John Astin, the father on the Addam's Family. I had the feeling they had been put into similar situations and had similar experiences elsewhere where they were treated as if they were underfoot. He tried to keep the other two, one gruff woman and a quiet, yet feisty man, more or less in line and to steer them back towards the tasks at hand and to quell their arguments. To break the tension, he would deliver jokes rapid fire – most very corny, but some were really good. He had a keen eye for observational humour, quoted positive affirmations and flashed quick smiles. He had a warmhearted presence and a calmness to him as if working beside the large, noisy, steaming dishwasher was 'home'.

After spending roughly three hours sweating it out together after the dinner plates were cleared away, we shut the machine down for good. The leader walked over to me to where I was finishing mopping the floor and sincerely thanked me for letting them help me out and for putting up with their 'shenanigans'. His smile was huge and his eyes were bright. I have yet to meet another who has the same genuine positivity as this man. After thanking me, he paused and looked up at me for a few seconds making eye contact (he barely came up to my chest and I likely outweighed him easily by 100 lbs) before asking quietly if he could ask me a personal question. I said go ahead and he asked me, timidly, if I was raised Christian. It's very odd to discuss religion with strangers in Canada, but I responded with a "Why yes, I was" with a smile of my own. The man's smile went even more electric and he beamed at me as if I was truly someone special. 'I knew it, I knew it, I knew it!" he kept repeating excitedly without breaking eye contact. I felt as if I had somehow made his day. I didn't know what to make out of the experience, but it left me feeling thankful for all the good things in my life and optimistic.

I needed that optimism and then some. The delivery of my daughter was a terrifying ordeal a few short months later and we almost lost both my wife and daughter several times. Had we lived in any other generation, neither of them would have made it. The hospital nurses made me sleep in the same maternity room with my wife and daughter for the first week to assist with their recovery, help monitor/chart vitals and feeding times. It was tough for a man of my size to sleep on the plasticized chair that folded flat to a not-even-5-foot "bed", but sometimes I would think of my experience with the 'happy dishwasher man' as I tried to curl up to rest and I would feel a sense of calmness. If that man could be positive and happy, then so could I. Both my wife and daughter recovered well and we've since welcomed a son to complete our family. No matter who you are or where you are in life, please choose positivity – it can make such a difference.


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