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.