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The Happiest Employee on Earth

February 1, 2011

There’s a bright yellow band of construction tape blocking the administrative entrance to my company’s main building. Apparently there are a set of killer icicles hanging from the roofline forty feet above, threatening to bludgeon unassuming office workers arriving to work.

That wouldn’t be pretty.

In any case, I had to go around and use the main entrance to the manufacturing plant.

I sighed deeply at the thought of walking an extra twenty yards out of my way.

It was about 4:00 in the afternoon, and most of the first shift had already left for the day, leaving a few workers still milling around outside the plant entrance, chatting on their cell phones, leaning against the wall, waiting around for their rides to show up. The gray sky had started to snow again – this time a soft, light sprinkling of giant sugar crystals. The news called it a “dusting,” which made it sound pretty and mythical, like we were in the land of faeries and elves rather than the gritty tableau of exhausted hourlies coming off of their 8 hour shift, now facing a potential driving hazard.

We all kept glancing up to the heavens, blinking at the thought of more snow tonight.

As I approached the lobby entrance from the guest parking lot, I noticed someone right smack in the middle of the entryway making odd, jagged movements with his body.

I looked harder, to see if everything was all right.

It was an employee, dancing. Right there in the middle of the walkway, right in front of all those parked cars and every passerby. He was all by himself, dancing.

It was Donny.

Donny has a mild form of Downs Syndrome. He has worked here probably for 20 years, since he was a teenager. His job is doing routine maintenance stuff around the plant: painting, replacing things, odd jobs and the like. He’s good at it – very conscientious, dependable, friendly, and, most of all, he’s happy.

Over the years Donny has become a fixture at our company. He lives at home with his mom and dad, and usually rides his bike to work. I often see him riding to or from work, his Phillies cap pulled tight and low over his head, eyes straight ahead, fixed on the road. He’s very careful.

But today it was snowing, again, so I guess his bike couldn’t make it through the snow and ice, and, like the other straggler of workers, he was waiting for his ride home.

But instead of just leaning against the wall with a blank stare, he decided he should start dancing. His feet jiggered this way and that as he hopped up and down, bouncing slowly to the rhythm he made up in his head.

Two Hispanic guys in a white pick up truck pulled up next to him and rolled down the windows. There was some salsa music playing on the car radio, and they turned it up loud. Then they sat there, watching Donny dance to their instant soundtrack.

“I’m doing a snow dance!” Donny shouted to no one in particular, his arms flailing every which way and his face pointed straight up to the sky. His eyes were shut tight and a brilliant smile crossed his face.

I walked past him and smiled, but he didn’t see me. He was too busy dancing, caught up in the movement of his body, feeling the sensation of the cold flakes falling onto his eyes, the raw beauty of the chill on his face.

I reached for the main entrance doorway, and I heard him shout again,

“I’m doing a snow dance!”

Before I heaved open the door, I turned back again to get just one more glimpse of him dancing. I felt a pang of – something. What was it? Sadness? Compassion? Jealousy? The thought crossed my mind, surely, that he must know something that I don’t.

He is the happiest employee I’ve ever seen.

What must it be like to be so uninhibited like that, to be a child again, to be so happy just because it’s snowing and you finished up another good day of work? I can hardly make it through a single day without worrying what someone thinks about me – if I’m smart enough, or if I’m behaving like a real leader would, or if I’m making a good impression. I am usually so consumed with my petty worries and projects and meetings that I barely even notice the sky. Except to complain about it.

Making my way down the hall to the conference room, I thought about what it would be like to be so completely unconcerned what others think, that you could actually express your true self. So you laugh. You dance. You shout. You turn your face to the sky with a brilliant smile.

Donny won Employee of the Year a few months ago. We held a big banquet in his honor. He was stunned.

Photo by Nance Marie.

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18 Comments leave one →
  1. February 1, 2011 9:15 pm

    I would vote him employee of the year again. No contest :). This leaves the sweetest pictures in my head.

  2. February 2, 2011 1:35 am

    That child-like happiness is elusive, that’s for sure. Every weekend in church we sit behind a young man, Tommy, who has Down syndrome and is simply smitten over the worship band. His sister brings him and he has his very own official (non-working) microphone. He sings every song with the band, demonstrating the emotion and gestures as though he was center stage. And all the while I’m afraid someone’s going to think I can’t carry a tune in a bushel basket. We can learn a lot from the Donny’s and Tommy’s of this world. They can certainly make us pause and appreciate unbridled joy. Wonderful post, Brad.

  3. daphinas permalink
    February 2, 2011 6:11 am

    It is raining in my head, though I don’t know why
    Maybe it’s because ‘they’ said, I could do better instead
    Or maybe, I just don’t know how… to live without rain in my head

    God Bless Donny, God Bless Tommy, God Bless Kay
    For showing us how… to make the sun shine instead.

    Great post Bradly! Imagine what it has brought out of my head!

  4. February 2, 2011 7:23 am

    I read a fiction book once where those with down syndrome were elevated to leadership in heaven. It was because they get it….what is important…..loving openly, no inhibition, pure worship…. a child-like faith. I can definitely visualize it.

  5. February 2, 2011 10:09 am

    Bradley,

    You tell a mean story. I am always blown away by your mastery of the English language. You have a unique way of combining technical thought with eloquent words.

    It is interesting that his ‘snow dance’ conjured up strong emotional feelings for you. When will you be doing your snow dance? Do you think you are above doing the snow dance?

    Matthew

    • February 3, 2011 5:53 am

      No, I don’t think I’ll be doing any snow dances. My dances come out in words rather than my body. Although I did dance quite a bit at the last party I went to. Especially when the band started playing 70s disco tunes…

  6. February 2, 2011 10:13 am

    Just think if we weren’t so inhibited by the opinions of others when it came to our joy. Work could actually be fun!

  7. February 3, 2011 1:38 pm

    we become so accustomed to restricting ourselves, that we start to forget where we don’t need to.
    to be accepted we must preform in a habitual way that is acceptable to the surrounding norm.

    in my recent travel, i realized, again how some things are accepted where i live, and not accepted in in other parts of the country… not to mention the airport security line. so, i can understand why we can go too far in the habit of restriction with ourselves to a point where we even stop listening to our heart…

    this is getting long…i might as well write a post…

  8. February 3, 2011 9:39 pm

    I wonder if Donny knows how much joy he has spread through your words?

    Thank you so much for sharing this.

  9. February 4, 2011 6:49 pm

    Quite beautiful, Bradley. I’m reminded Paul insisting he would be undignified in his worship. David did it (to the jeers of his wife). We too have church members (through our “Friendship” program) who teach us much about uninhibited living. My family don’t like me dancing (it isn’t too great) but I have a strong feeling God does, so it does happen from time to time in church and on my own. Not at work though … I have to think about that – the dignified COO and all that. Just maybe …

    BTW I taught a series on the Kingdom of God a couple of years ago, and asked members of the congregation for art work that portrayed their vision of the Kingdom. One drawing from a teenaged guy showed Jesus in a village square, seated on a fountain playing a guitar, with a little girl dancing before him. It still brings tears to my eyes to think of that picture (maybe I’ll use it in a post sometime soon). How much I learned about the Kingdom – childlikeness, dance, harmony, Jesus kingship – from that one simple drawing. Your story speaks volumes too. Thanks!

  10. Karyn permalink
    February 7, 2011 1:01 pm

    I just finished sending an email to our governer, asking him not to cut funding for the agencies that assist people with disabilities in securing jobs. While an interviewer may not see the value in hiring someone with Downs Syndrome, with a little support and education, people can find excellent job matches and thrive.

    In my work at Goodwill, I am surrounded by a lot of unorthodox behavior. Sometimes strange (there’s a lady who comes into my office to pet my shoe every once in awhile… I could tell a hundred stories…). Sometimes heart-warming (when I arrive at work, there’s a guy who proclaims: “The-e-ere she is! You’re the Best!”). The variety of interactions keeps every day interesting and I must say that what I learn about human nature through these folks – many of them displaying their natures unabashedly – helps me to value others’ needs and quirks, too, rather than mercilessly holding them to the standards of the status quo.

    While the status quo may be the best way we presently know to run things, integrating someone a little unorthodox, and, yes, accepting some inconveniences, will certainly teach us to find value in new places… Kind of like finally hearing the music and getting your disco on in the sparkling snow.

  11. February 7, 2011 6:06 pm

    We desperately need the people like Donny, for moments like these. I wonder how many Donny’s are thrown away before birth, because a physician diagnoses them inferior—and how much poorer is our world because we’ve tolerated such judgments.

  12. February 8, 2011 7:50 am

    So heart warming! I am sitting here blinking back my tears. I have a very special place in my heart for anyone with Downs Syndrome. You see, one of my aunts had Downs and I loved her to pieces! I haven’t seen her in nearly four years and really miss her.

    Blessings~

  13. February 9, 2011 8:33 am

    Sounds like Donny experiences and brings joy and that, is something that is sorely lacking in so many workplace settings.

  14. February 10, 2011 10:33 pm

    This really got to me. I left work today to be greeted by a gray, silent sky and a slight drizzle. I LOVE that kind of weather…this time though, I was so stressed by the happenings of the day that even though I stopped to notice it, my job was weighing too heavily on me to really enjoy it…which…makes me really sad.

    It’s been years since I’ve been at this point and I really don’t like it here.

  15. February 20, 2011 12:14 am

    What a great story, Bradley. I just knew it would end with you dancing in your office. It still does in my mind. 😉

    Isn’t God so amazing that he uses something so simple to touch those around Donny who likely relayed the story as you have. How many people are being touched by this man’s simple expression of joy that filled his heart. I wonder if God isn’t waiting for us to a Donny for others. Wouldn’t that be a great testimony?

    Thanks for sharing this story.

  16. Irene permalink
    February 25, 2011 4:57 am

    Hey,

    A great experience. I truly envy the lack of inhibition dispalyed by Donny and generally those with Down Syndrome. My son who has the condition is 7 and he just brings the love and kindness required in every family. When I am stressed out at work I sometimes ask myself what kaylan would do and I find myself smiling.

    Thanks for the post and keep noticing these “strange” behviours, they are the salt of the day if you pose to apprciate!

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