Living in Chicago, I heard the same things nearly every day.
“Don’t call me ma’am”
“I can get the door for myself.”
“Do I look like an old lady to you?”
Each time, I would try to explain. “It’s not about age,” I would insist. “You could be four years old or ninety-for, and I would address you the same. It’s about respect.”
“Well it makes me feel old. Don’t use that language with me!”
“I’m sorry. It’s the way I was raised… I’ll try to do better.”
Then I moved back home. In Chattanooga, I am thanked for opening doors, appreciated for saying ma’am, and addressed as “sir.” Finally, a culture that appreciates me!
Two weeks ago, I walked to the bank to pay my mortgage. They (the bank) had just moved into a new location in an historical building in the heart of downtown While I was there I stepped in back to congratulate Doug, the loan officer who had approved my mortgage. He was clearly proud of the new digs and took me directly to the corner office.
“This is mine. Beats the heck out of the all-in-one-room space we had up the block, doesn’t it?”
“You bet it does. This is nice. You’re moving up in the world.”
He then directed me to a closed door next to his.
“And this, sir,” he said, slowly opening the door, squeezing the drama from a pregnant pause, “is your office.”
The cherry desk and high-backed leather chair were a bit grand compared to my customs, but the earth-toned leaf print on the walls definitely made me feel at home and the street-level window looking across Georgia Avenue and up the parkway to the east shed perfect morning light on a spacious suite.
“Everything is in disarray now, but by Monday we’ll have the room arranged and comfortable so you can move right in.”
Back out in the lobby, my friends Tom, Chris and Moriah were waiting for me. I wanted to fetch them, to show off my new space, but I didn’t want to end up being the butt of a joke.
“Don’t toy with me Doug. If you tell me this is my office, I’ll be here with my laptop and thermos Monday morning and expect it to be available.”
“I’m serious, man. It’s yours.”
In a moment, my friends were following me down the hallway to where Doug was waiting. Introductions were made and then Doug gestured to the open door.
“How do you like Jim’s new office?”
While we were in the in the bank it was agreed by all that it was indeed a nice space – a perfect place for me to write, but back out on the street, my three companions pressed me for the truth.
“It’s not really yours… is it?”
“No, it is. Really. Doug was serious. It’s my office.”
“What do you mean, why?”
“Well, you don’t work for the bank, do you?”
“No, but they have an empty office and I need a place to write.”
“In the bank?”
“Yeah. In the bank.”
Tom shook his head. “Man,” he said “This is way too much like Mayberry.”
I whistled a bar of the Andy Griffith theme song to the laughter of all.
“Now do you see why I moved back to Chattanooga?”
I have a philosophy that has become a bit of a mantra. People who know me well have often heard it expressed: That’s why there’s more than one of us on the planet. Put simply, it means this: If I have it and you can make better use of it than I can at the moment, I should make it available to you. It’s just the right thing to do. Whether it’s something as big and expensive as a car or something as simple as a pocketknife or a pencil, or as intangible as a listening ear, we ought to provide for one another, take care of each other. If we don’t do that, what is the point of there being more than one of us in the planet?
Doug had an office. I could use a space in which to write. He made the office available to me. The world is a better place.
Last week I was sick and didn’t feel like getting out of the house if it wasn’t necessary. Wednesday morning I got a concerned phone call from Doug.
“Where are you? Is everything Ok?”
“I’m a little under the weather. I’d best stay home.”
“I’m sorry. You know you’re office is ready and waiting when you get well.”
“Thanks. I’m sure I’ll be in next week.”
This morning, having recovered, I showed up at the office. There were cookies on the desk waiting for me. As I sat down, Doug asked me if I wanted the door closed.
“No sir. I have an open door policy.”
“Ok, but if people walk in, you know you can’t make loans or access the bank computer.”
“Feel free to use the high speed internet, though.”
“Thanks. I will. And let me know if there’s anything I can do for you.”
As he went back to his office, I could hear Doug chuckling. I poured a cup of coffee, opened my laptop and started writing. The words came easily.
I have never shared my more-than-one-person-on-the-planet philosophy with Doug or asked about his own values, but I suspect they are similar to mine. His actions certainly suggest as much. Makes me feel good about having borrowed money from him.
I don’t know how long I will be able to stay in this office – a couple of weeks, maybe a month, Doug isn’t sure – but as long as I am here, I hope people will stop by for a visit. It’s a comfortable place with two very nice guest chairs, and the bank staff is very friendly. And besides, I have way more cookies than I need.