Prepare yourself for an overwrought metaphor.
It occurred to me recently that all of us have people in our lives that clean up messes on our behalf. It could just be one person, though perhaps it’s dozens. It could be your closest friend, but it might be someone you’ve never even met. Either way, they often do this work in total anonymity, willingly and without the expectation of thanks. They are our personal Waste Management Interns. It’s an unpaid position. It doesn’t even offer a reference.
Like all great overwrought metaphors, I had this realization when I was in the thick of the job, painstakingly mopping up emotional bile and blood without the benefit of a Hazmat suit. It stains the skin on your fingertips: even after scrubbing with GoJo, you can feel the grit in the grooves. Still sweaty from the work, I realized it would never be acknowledged. Predictably, this led me to brood silently in a darkened room and ponder my mortality.
The temptation, of course, is to dwell on the fact that my own efforts might go unnoticed. That concern is fair, to be sure, but it’s also nearsighted and idiotic. Like I said, we all have Waste Management Interns. Someone who constantly finds themselves immersed in drama, tarred and feathered with social complications – someone like myself – must have dozens if not hundreds of such people in their life. And I don’t recall seeking out and thanking any of them. So maybe the point of the process isn’t recognition or even a reference. Maybe this whole social system relies on us selflessly paying it forward in the blind hope that the next time we spill our own radioactive refuse someone else will be there to keep that upward spiral spinning. But, all the same, to everyone who has done that for me, seriously: thank you.