Saturday, September 26, 2009


We started off as strangers, different ages, different backgrounds, little common ground. I felt like an unwelcome transient moving temporarily into an established and closed neighbourhood. Some conflict followed. The end was an unexpected but welcome surprise.

Several months ago the team with which I work had to vacate temporarily the building in which I'd worked for the last seven years. Office space was limited and I was the last team member in the building and agreed to remain for the expected three months until some maintenance issues were resolved. Without warning I was told I was to move to an office in another building. An email from a vice president told the team the move was temporary and not to get settled.

I found the office assigned to me and discovered I had an office mate who had occupied half the room for several years, perhaps as many as nine. The office reflected his character. Lighting, framed photographs, personal books, small items, a guitar. I introduced myself and made an effort to find a point of contact. I commented on his guitar and told how I owned one in my mid-teens and attempted to learn to play but have no musical ability.

A few days passed and I received a confusing and unclear phone call based on a complaint that had gone up three levels and back down to me. The complaint was that I was too loud. I have some hearing loss that I acknowledge and was louder than I realised. My reaction was frustration and a degree of anger. I would have prefered to be told personally rather than get five other people involved. Relationships should be based on honesty and openness.

In response I approached my office mate directly. I asked him about the complaint and tried to do so in a non-threatening way. In the end I assured him I would lower my speech volume. I did this consciously and made some other changes. I began scheduling calls when he was not present and conducting meetings with co-workers in their offices or in a conference room.

Each morning when I arrived I spoke out with a hearty good morning and attempted to add some safe comment about the weather, some event on the commute or something that seemed appropriate. The anticipated three months passed and things settled into a polite but restrained relationship in need of a point of connection.

One day I noticed he had a stack of books about sailing and I questioned his interest in the subject. It was rewarding to listen to his enthusiastic response. He told how as a child he had lived on a sail boat with his family and hoped to own a boat some day.

More time passed and a co-worker came into the office and asked my opinions of wind generators. She was reading the debate about a proposed commercial wind farm near Flagstaff and knew I have a wind generator installed. As soon as she left my office mate questioned my knowledge and wanted some help. He has found a sail boat and was leaving the University. He needed to install a solar electric system on the boat and was struggling to decide what was needed and the size of the system required. We talked and I tried to answer his technical questions.

As the next few weeks went by I noticed he began saying hello some mornings before I got the chance. His voice communicated something good, something positive. Our relationship was more relaxed, more natural.

I don't work Fridays and yesterday was his last day. On Thursday I went to work prepared to say goodbye. One of the last things I remember him saying was that he had "enjoyed" sharing an office with me. I thought that was the end.

Yesterday evening I was in town and had to stop by the office to print an email. Upon unlocking the door I saw a guitar in a case on my desk. On top of the case was a note.
"What a pleasure having you as an officemate. I'm leaving my lights, kettle and guitar for you. You may feel like you got no music talent, but dude, here's the secret: ever body got a song inside. Let yours out! Best of luck to you!"
I'm grateful for the gifts. I'm more grateful for the note, for his kind words, for the knowledge that we bridged a gap and parted with good memories. These are the best gifts.


Blogger Malcolm said...

What a beautiful post! So uplifting for me on a rather down day. Thank you!

9/27/2009 04:29:00 AM  
Blogger Alex Pendragon said...

You should have just shot him day one.

just kidding!

9/27/2009 05:22:00 PM  
Blogger Melody said...

A nice reminder that we don't always know where the other person is coming from in a difficult situation.

Thanks for sharing.

9/28/2009 06:14:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Michael apparently doesn't realize your EXTREMELY high level of gentleness that's been your life's story. Neither will the PAUL I recall let a prior shortcoming keep you from finding the RIGHT notes as I frequently struggled to do MOST Sunday mornings! Even those RARE occasions when we DISAGREED, you always BRIDGED those rough waters with concern and respect as you did this former coworker! I'm sure Julie KNOWS what a RARE man U R. How I wish I could hear U singing NOW ~ yep, I remember!! ;-)

The verification word is "painhid", yet I know it's NOT!

12/03/2009 01:33:00 AM  

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