It was a long day and each house sort of bled into the next. I was tired, like, the whole time. I spent the sidewalk transition doing some self-talk about why I believed so strongly in this cause and also, consoling my broken spirit that this was only temporary. Pulling out my phone, I refreshed my email about a dozen times, checked my spam mail, waiting for an email requesting my presence for an interview. Then I shook off the loss, puffed up my chest and knocked my rhythmic knock on the next door.
There was a surprising number of ill people in this neighborhood. They were sleeping off their surgeries and upon hearing me knock, they rose out of bed, strained themselves across the floor with their walkers, perhaps hoping to see an old friend- finding me instead. With my clipboard. Telling them to give me money. As the door would slam I would ask, “don’t you drink water?” Every time it was intended as a left hook to their coldness. I wasn’t myself. They should be in bed getting better, but this job makes you prickly. It takes slammed doors personally and charges every one with crimes against nature.
One house I came to, the woman stepped outside smiling at me. A year ago another canvasser had come to her door and she made it clear, she was passionate about the work we were doing. “Unfortunately,” she said, “I’ve had cancer since the last visit and it’s squeezed our budgets out. We’ll have to say no this year, but thank you.” I know what I’m supposed to do here. Ask for a token donation, shoot high, and then work your way down to something reasonable. But I just couldn’t. I just stared into her kind eyes and said. “Yah. Thank you for your time.”
That felt like kindness and grace and understanding, but I knew I couldn’t tell my boss about it. That was a missed opportunity with a passionate supporter and I blew it. But then again, I was happy I still retained some semblance of humanity.
I hit a lucky streak with one house. It was absolutely enormous. The girl that strode out from the patio door was dressed in diamonds, with long blond hair and a sort of buoyancy radiating through her, like one who has just read a book on positive thinking or been drinking through the entire afternoon.
“Whaddya you got for me?” She said, plopping herself down on the top step.
“I’m a community organizer working to protect our waterways-“ gently, she clasped her long fingers around the clipboard and removed it from my hands. She stared at it, fake reading, and then glanced up at me.
“Y’know, I’ve had a really, really crappy day.” Definitely been drinking, I thought. “I want to do some good. I want to help. You guys are doing good right?”
Despite how much I’ve hated my role in canvassing, I had to agree. I couldn’t help but give an exhortation about how half of our waterways are no longer federally protected and companies are already pouring their waste in our small streams and the consequences of inaction could be dire. I believed all this as it shot out.
She held a finger up. “I’ll be right back.” And she bounced back into the house.
When she returned she was holding a checkbook and writing fastidiously.
“I am going to give you $120.” And I nearly fell on my back like a plank of wood. I thanked her and thanked her and promised I would work to make sure her money was used to hold our politicians accountable. And then I left, feeling like I should’ve mowed the lawn or washed the windows or something.
At the end of the day my leaders were all slapping me on the back and congratulating me on making quota, and also, reminding me that my trainee pay was still the same and that trainees don’t get commission. I was also critiqued.
“These numbers,” the leader said to me as we stood beneath a street light, my clipboard in his hand. “You need to get the clipboard in their hand.”
“Sometimes,” I admitted, “I struggle to ask-”
“No, you need to Tell not ASK. Remember, tell them we NEED this.” I heard traces of doubt in his voice. There was a subtle suggestion that I didn’t actually care about keeping our water clean.
“Right.” I said and looked at the ground, scratching the pavement with my feet. I walked slowly back to the suburban, hopped in the furthest row back and pulled out my phone to distract myself from all this.
Here’s what I know about this job. I can love the cause and hate the means and believe in the means all at once. I can continue being human and that sometimes means asking not telling. I can take a small victory lap when a wealthy woman having a hard day uses my cause to make herself feel better. I can feel okay about telling a neighbor that I’m sorry, that while I believe in the cause, the canvassing thing isn’t my thing. I can be happy when I hear about all the money brought in and the letters collected and allow myself to be blown away in the bliss of my fellow canvassers on a job well done as we drive back in the dead of night.
There’s no shame in taking a job you hate and there is also no shame in making space for humanity. I have very legitimate reasons to believe I am not getting paid what I am due, but I also have dwindling savings, a speeding ticket and a parking ticket to pay for, and let’s not forget about the student loans. I have not many choices, but I also can choose to see only bad.
And this is the place where we begin with the weakest fix and we make the most of it. Be it a check for $365 from a kindhearted person, a hug from a not-today-donor, or a new, luxurious job- with benefits. I am learning that just as easily as I can see my ugly reflection in the glass porch door, in my bank account, I can also see the good. I can wrap myself in the strands of good will and good cause and a hard day’s work and feel proud of myself. And there’s no shame in that.