Posted by: hannah jo | January 18, 2010

Ruthless yet compassionate

Where to begin? Our house has been the house of illness, sorry to say, with even the dog taking part. We’re all exhausted, but on the mend. Now it’s time to start catching up on everything that got ignored or delayed.

In addition to the physical ailments, a big cloud has hung over the house for the past few weeks, thanks to my current work situation. Without saying anything that will get me fired, I just need to say that a huge re-org is taking place and it’s excruciating. My precious work group is being split up and we are horribly distraught. We’ve cried. We’ve lost sleep. We’ve protested. We’ve lost faith. It’s all so terribly sad.

We watched more Project Runway while Lily was home sick, which helped. I will warn you that if you hang out with my family these days, you have to tolerate a lot of random quotes from that show. They’re now mixed in with all the lines we routinely quote from Saturday Night Live. Lily often does them in character. Her favorite source of inspiration at the moment is a hilarious skit that Mike Myers did way back when with Nicole Kidman. Mike Myers plays a kid who is tied up to a playground structure, wearing a harness and a helmet, because he’s hyperactive. He’s also hypoglycemic, so he’s “a hyper hypo.” Nicole is a conceited kid who is playing there next to him on the playground. Lily can expertly play either character, and sometimes she plays both. She always makes me laugh.

Reading has also been a good distraction, although I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve read some real crap lately. It’s been a mixed bag of memoirs, how-tos, photo-essay type books, and music-related stuff. I’m hungry for a good novel and plan to sink my teeth into one later today. One of the books I read recently had a line in it that I want to share with you. In Perfection: A Memoir of Betrayal and Renewal, Julie Metz describes how she dealt with the sudden death of her husband and then, seven months later, dealt with the discovery that he had a secret life she wasn’t aware of during their marriage. I appreciated the first half of the book much more than the second half because I think she wrote movingly about being left with a 6-year-old daughter and her grief. Later, when she starts to unravel what he had secretly been up to, the book becomes too soap opera-ish for even my tastes. Her descriptions of how people helped her after her husband died were helpful to me, though. They gave me ideas about how I could be of more help when I have loved ones who experience something similar.

One of the author’s friends, Sara, travels from England for a week-long visit. She promised to help sort through the author’s husband’s things. Sara tells the author, “This will be my gift to you.” I immediately thought, “I could do that. That’s something I could offer people.” Then, the author writes:

I knew she could get this job done. She was a librarian both by profession and by temperament; I could trust her to be ruthless yet compassionate.

She nailed it. Ruthless yet compassionate. That is a librarian trait. How else could we get our jobs done if we did not have that pair of qualities? For example, we routinely have to throw out beloved library items because they are damaged, worn out, loved to death, or, sadly, ignored and collecting dust. A lot of people can’t do it. The best librarians do it every day. But, they do it thoughtfully, with compassion. Obviously, this is much easier to do with other people’s stuff. I’m not as ruthless with my own belongings, unfortunately, which is why all of my shelves and cabinets and closets are overflowing. But, give me someone else’s collection of stuff, and I could definitely sort it, prioritize it, and recommend which pieces to keep and which to throw out.

As someone who routinely realizes that she has few real skills (thanks to being surrounded by tremendously talented and multi-faceted people), I’m relieved to find out that I do have this one skill and that it might be helpful to someone at a difficult time. So, let me know if, God forbid, you find yourself in the position of having to sort through a loved one’s possessions. I can help.


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