Friday, June 28, 2013

Making a Difference Serendipitously

The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

Talking with One of the People Who Cleans Our Home Weekly

"Would you like to write a reference for me?"


"Only if you want to."

"Sure. Who is the audience?:

"I'm not sure."

"It's fine. I need the spelling of both your names." (I forgot his first name, and he's been working in my home for nearly a year(!) Usually, I'm on teleconferences while he's here and don't ever really chat with him. In fact, didn't talk with him till he announced he was leaving to go to school and that this week would be his last week. Still, shame on me.)

I give it to him, google "quick study" and ask him to read the definition, and go get an envelope:

June 28, 2013

To Whom It May Concern:

Xxxxxx Yyyyyyyyyy is a quick study, both at work and in learning English.

Xxxxxx has worked with me, since September, 2012 and in that time he has demonstrated an excellent work ethic. He is client-focused, efficient and lovely to work with – always gracious and friendly.

I am sorry to lose his services, but happy for him that he is pursuing further education.

I am confident that Xxxxxx has the drive, intellect and personality to do very well in his studies and in his career afterward.


Sarah Siegel


[email address]

"Thank you. It's beautiful."

"I can only imagine what it's like to be an immigrant."

"It's hard."

"When I moved to Chicago, when I was your age -- what are you? Twenty-two?"

"Twenty-three and almost 24."


"That's Ok."

"Well, I was a Literacy Volunteer and helped a family from Russia.... I used to think -- because my whole family is from Russia --"

"You're Russian?"

"Well, Jewish, so we didn't count." (On Russian passports, historically and perhaps still today, Jews were stamped, "Jewish" (in Russian), rather than "Russian".)

He nodded.

"And the family was Jewish from Russia, too. And I used to think, I could be her if I had been born in Russia and she, here. We were the same age."

He nodded again.

"I took her and her sons, both under five, to the public library and helped all of them get library cards. She was so depressed at the time, she acted like it was nothing special, but told me later that it was fantastically helpful. We're friends on Facebook now, in fact, and her two sons graduated from college and she became a nurse and her husband became successful, too. I know it's probably awful right now, but I believe you will be all right. Especially because you had the courage to be assertive and ask for a reference. That's just one sign."

He thanked me. "Do you want the door closed?"

"Yes, please."

A few minutes later: A knock on my door.


"May I talk with you for two minutes?"


"I was thinking about our conversation and I'm...." (He stood there with his beautiful face, full of five-o'clock shadow, looking so vulnerable.)



"I know."

He smiled with relief.

"And everyone knows I am, too," I said.

He smiled some more.

"I was so excited when I started working here because I saw that you were two women and you had a house and...."

"We were married legally two years ago."

"And married! I want to be someday, too."

"Do you want kids?"

He made a face. "First, I need to have money, and an education and a partner."

"Do your parents know, and are they kind?"

"My mother knows. I told her when I was 13."

"When you were still in Bulgaria?"

"Yes. And she listens to me tell her about boyfriends and...."

"So she's kind."


"And your father?"

"He probably knows, but they are divorced."

"Well, if you are like I was when I was in my 20s, I was miserable!"

"What is 'miserable'?"

"Very, very unhappy."


"My older sister told me that turning 30 is like being let out of jail."

"I hope so!"

"You will be all right. You're cute!"

"Thank you," he said, smiling and looking at the floor.

"You are. You're very attractive, and lovely, so it will be all right ultimately. When I was your age, I had a bike -- not a motorcycle, but a bicycle."

"And now, you have a house and a wife --"

"Yes, and at first, I think Pat's mother might not have been happy because Pat earned much more money than I did, but for the past 10 years, I've been the primary provider."

"I thought so. You look like you... -- and that's good. That's how it should be with a couple. Nothing separate."

"Yes, I agree. So I hope you find a husband."

Smiling dreamily. "Me, too!"

"And with the Supreme Court decisions this week, you can marry and American man and become a citizen, depending where you live."

"I have a Green Card already."

"Oh, that's great!"

"Yes, my grandmother helped. And my father's already here."

"Terrific! You know, when I was growing up, I read the wedding section of "The New York Times" every Sunday, wishing that I could be in it and then once I knew I was a lesbian, feeling bad that I never could be. But then it began publishing same-sex wedding announcements and Pat & I got in! If you give me your email address, I'll send you a link to the announcement and to a little video we made -- less than three minutes, about how we met."

He wrote down his email address.

"Also, I'd like it if you kept in touch with me and let me know how you are doing."

He smiled and nodded -- seemed pleased.

He said goodbye to go back to work and I shook his hand.

I wrote the email:

Hi Xxxxxx. Thanks for our conversation.

Here are the two links that I promised to send:

Good luck with work and with your studies at Aaaaaaaaa Community College.

Please stay in touch with me.



This time, he was the last of the three workers to leave and yelled to my closed door. "Ok. Goodbye!"

I opened my door and asked if I could give him a hug.

He hugged me sweetly. Our ears rested against each other for a moment. I walked him to the door.

"Thanks for sending me the email."

"It's already in your inbox."

We waved at each other.


Anonymous said...

What a lovely piece. Happy for the connection and the kindness. People come into our lives for the lessons we teach them and they us. Here is a beautiful example of one. Thanks - L

Sarah Siegel said...

Lorian, thanks for your kind comment. Agreed re: teaching and being taught by people continuously, when we stay receptive to being agents for learning and students.

Linda Lee said...

At the Trans Health conference, a trans guy asked to sit next to me. I said cute guys are always welcome to sit next to me! He was really cute! That got a big laugh out of him.

Sarah Siegel said...

Linda, and that's it! We all just need a bit of kind, positive reinforcement, don't we? I know I do!