In 2013, I started working at a local hospice in Iowa. This job changed how I approach my life and taught me so many lessons about empathy, grace and humanity.
One of the exceptional benefits of this position was meeting the person with whom I shared my job responsibilities. This person is sassy and thoughtful and devoted to her essential work. I am better because I know her.
Early on in the teeny office we shared, I heard what I consider her catchphrase, and something I have shamelessly stolen as one of the mantras that helps guide me:
“It’s my First Day.”
Steph would say this often when she did something silly, even though she had served as a Volunteer Coordinator at this hospice for about a decade. She had truly seen it all, it clearly wasn’t her First Day, but this simple, funny, disarming, phrase holds so much wisdom.
Think about the last time you were at a restaurant and your server was struggling. Maybe you started to get irritated, until they said the magic words: “I’m sorry — it’s my First Day.”
Don’t you automatically give this person permission? Treat them with greater understanding? Grant them grace?
Why not apply this mentality to most people we encounter? There will certainly be people who you know, know better — for whom EVERY DAMN DAY appears to be their First Day. We all know how to deal with these people. This comes (a little too) easily for most of us. Let’s not focus on that.
Let’s choose instead to be a little more compassionate with the majority of the world. The amazing Dr. Brené Brown said, “Empathy is the skill or ability to tap into our own experiences in order to connect with an experience someone is relating to us. Compassion is the willingness to be open to this process.” Why not give people the benefit of the doubt? Aren’t we all just navigating through life the best we can, but probably should have giant “STUDENT DRIVER” stickers on our foreheads?
I remember the first time Steph’s words resonated with me when I was still working in the hospice field. I had tasks I needed to accomplish and I had documentation I had to complete. We are even trained that there is more or less a procedure for death called the Active Dying Process–a tidy checklist of what happens when we die. Too often our day-to-day work is by rote, a truly awful fact when I interacted with the family of a dying person.
Why? Because they had never lost this person before.
It was their First Day.
I remember waking up on the floor after my husband left and feeling shameful, overwhelmed and scared. How was I supposed to keep going?
I remember preparing to navigate this move across the country and getting so anxious about all the uncertainty and the looming details. What route do I take? What if I get tired? How will I transfer everything and everyone into the hotel each night? What car do I buy? Am I really doing this alone?
I remember my hand shaking as I tried to unlock the door to my new office at my new job, the job that changed my life and identity and future. How do I know this is right?
We are coming upon the season of giving. The best thing we can do, is give each other a break. Together we are all surviving. Gdammit, today is our First Day.