It's easy to think that the things that make you sad are the hard bits, when someone challenges you very directly, when things go wrong, when you end up arguing with car insurance companies or the cellar is full of water. But actually the bits that bring the sadness out of me, at least, are the bits where someone says something kind, or does something that's just a little bit patient or generous. It might be nothing more than the question, 'are you okay?'. It might be when someone who is in charge offers you a little bit of praise, or when someone mentions that you have a good reputation for something. It might even be when you get up and do a little turn on stage (yep, that was my contribution to my mate's 40th birthday party this weekend - a bit of that notoriously beautiful singing that I occasionally wheel out when I want to sacrifice myself on the altar of dignity) and someone says they liked it.
Changing workplaces has left a gap in my support network. A well-timed wander to another office, a little sit out of the way, and conversation with someone who understands - and has perhaps been through the same thing themselves - these can all be good ways of improving a bad day. You get used to a place, I think, and that includes finding ways to tolerate the bad days, working out where the right place to go for a moan is, where the right place to get a good cup of tea is, and where the unofficial chair of therapy is. You can - as I do - have some terrible associations with a place, alongside some moments of wonderful happiness. It can be right to have left, whilst also recognising that what you have left still has a strong pull on you. In any case, the point, such as it is, was supposed to be that it is difficult to generate these support networks over just a few weeks.
It is therefore lovely to hear that other people have those same frustrations, angers and needs to vent that can seem unreasonable, that they are willing to put it out there, even if it does not take away your own version of the same. It is especially worthwhile to hear it from people who have a bit of power and authority. It is not just the recognition that people have needs that come before work, but hearing that this is equally true for even the people at the top of the tree, that makes you feel valued.
On this occasion, though, the initial kindness was my own: the simple act of reminding someone that what they do is good, and they don't necessarily need to temper this thought with the constant nag of 'what could be better?'. And for some reason which I'm not sure whether I fully know myself, I disintegrated (again). Maybe one day I will finally get over that vulnerability, but for now I accept that I have it, and do my best to limit its effect. And the worst aspect of it was that I still have a sense that crying in public just isn't done, and that probably made it ten times worse. As you fight whatever it is that is trying to get out, someone asks 'are you okay?', and that's it. It might not be the right person who is asking the question, the person you wanted to be there to tell the whole story, although there is a sense in which anyone who asks that question seriously is the right person. When someone who doesn't even know your name puts a hand on your shoulder, that is a wonderful thing, even though it is a bad thing that caused it. We aren't used to being kind to people we don't know, and it does reveal a lot about people when they are put in that position.
Is there a message in all this? Perhaps. If there is, it can be distilled into the five words 'Be excellent to each other.' Because the person standing next to you might just need it right now, even if you don't know their name just yet.
When to the sessions of sweet silent thought