Simple Gifts in Hard Times



That black plumed Old Coot paddling the North Branch of the Chicago River in the rain is her best friend at work.

He swims among and yet separate from the other waterfowl patrolling the river. He’s hard to see. Black feathers merging with the dark waters. Dodging the tour boats. Riding the waves. Looking for food. Keeping a distance from the other birds. Most often he’s unseen.

But everyday. Wednesday through Sunday. She walks to the water alone. Stands at the fence. The exact same spot. And from the unseen depths of the river comes the Old Coot. Pulling away from the other birds, he paddles to the edge of the water, right below where she stands, and he stops. As near to her as he can possibly be. As if he could see her smile. As if he’s always known her smile. Her hands on the fence. Both of them still. She whispers, “Hello Old Coot.” And neither of them needs to say anything more.

She is one of hundreds. In what used to be a cavernous empty warehouse full of electrical cable garbage and broken dreams of better days. Right between the River and one of the very last patches of housing projects that feel like a prison camp.

Now that old catalogue warehouse is reborn. Gleaming and shiny, managed brilliantly, bursting with the invisible pulsating rhythms of being Chicago’s Technology Hub. The streaming crowds of texting madly workers pouring in every morning, the lights burning brightly deep into the night. Way past the time when the river goes dark.

She is paid to talk on the phone and answer emails according to a script. Above all to do it quickly. Just go fast.

All day each day, she almost never speaks to any of the hundreds around her. All of them in headphones. Multi tasking. Looking at their computer screens. When there is some tiny almost invisible shred of an exchange, she always mentions it at home that night. “Ashley said hello to me! Rick asked me how my weekend was!”

So she goes to see that Old Coot. And they are silent. But it’s a different kind of silent.

A silence born of her real job, which the Old Coot and the poet Mary Oliver know is ‘loving the world.’

So when she approaches the shore, The Old Coot breaks from the pack and comes to swim by her. She doesn’t feed him. She just smiles.

Her talent. The way she was born. The stuff no one taught her. It’s a talent called Restorative. The talent is described like this:

“What is certain is that you enjoy bringing things back to life. It is a wonderful feeling to find underlying factors and restore something to its true glory. Intuitively you know that without your work, this thing—this machine, this person, this technique, this company, this living being, might have ceased to exist. You fixed it, resuscitated it, rekindled its vitality. You saved it.”

Back in the old warehouse, her RESTORITIVE talent is bottled up, never used. As if it’s inside another container of hand sanitizer. One with no pump on top.

So inside the warehouse she sits and simply tries to go faster. Something she is simply hard wired not to do. Something that will never happen.

Nothing wrong with going faster.

But, rekindling a life force isn’t measured with a stopwatch.

When the hours are over, she goes home. Opening the front door of her house to applause as she once again starts her real job of loving the world.

Tomorrow at lunch she’ll go visit that Old Coot.

Her best friend at work.

One Response to “Simple Gifts in Hard Times”

  1. chicagoguy14 Says:

    The “restorative” talent description comes from “Strengthsfinder 2.0” by Tom Rath. Restorative is the most rare of the 32 Talent Themes identified by Gallup.

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