Having lived a somewhat nomadic existence in childhood because of family commitments, I understood the chaos and the emotional energy and the physical energy from a move. We humans thrive on consistency and predictability, and our groundedness becomes disrupted even if the move is positive.
We were not moving, but we recently needed to hire a moving company to move some heavy pieces of furniture and learned some powerful lessons during a recent remodel of our home.
Two gentleman, perhaps in their midtwenties showed up right on time. They were polite and very professional in helping us with shifting around a grand piano and some couches and tables. They were very efficient and completed the task in about 90 minutes.
Being a curious type, I asked them somewhat casually about the most challenging part of their work. I had anticipated comments about back injuries, knee problems, and slip and falls, especially in the icy Midwestern winter.
But their answer took me by surprise.
They each said that the biggest hassle in the moving biz was the threat of physical violence from some homeowners.
“Tell me more,” I urged and I was stunned by their comments.
First, customers often express an unwillingness to pay the bill. The contract, which is sent by email before the actual move, is very clear about the cost: so much per hour, so much per travel, so much for fuel. Throw in the taxes and there is a clear dollar figure with a range of expenses because some jobs cannot be predicted with absolute certainty.
Turns out the problem is not really about the money at all. They shared with me that almost every move is stressful, and some people are simply not reading the contract. They are distracted, they are upset, unfocused.
Second, the threat of physical violence occurs especially when there is an unstable family situation. The issues of divorce, separation, and child custody are always in the background of these domestic upheavals. And the movers become the target for the anger and frustration of the warring parties. They each shared with me that on many occasions they will request a police escort. Yes, an armed police escort to enter the facility and ensure their safety as movers remove stuff from a lifetime that has turned upside down.
The movers themselves become the target of the vitriolic conversation, or sometimes they are physically assaulted, and those threats are in addition to the threat of bodily injury moving heavy pieces of furniture up and down steps and on icy sidewalks and driveways.
To cope, each has become an amateur sociologist and can quickly scan the environment and sense if additional police back-up is necessary.
They also shared with me the unpredictable situation if an individual is forced to move under the umbrella of mental illness. These people may not have capacity, they may not be reasonable, and the threat of physical violence is in the background.
I often turn to the comedian Robin Williams whose observation that we each carry a burden. No one knows the burden another might be carrying.
Make no assumption about the work an individual may do. Be curious, be attentive and be thoughtful and inquire about what is it that someone else does. I know, I am now.
Be respectful since we have no idea the burdens that individuals carry. Whether it is the barista who made your soy extra hot venti latte or the hardware store guy who helps you find the right filter for your furnace or the barber or the Uber driver. The grumpy salesperson, the terse clerk, the inattentive repair person may be struggling. Be understanding.
And always remember that unless we walk a mile in someone's shoes, we may never understand the backdrop of human behavior.
Now about that piano. It is situated in a new spot, but I’m not sure my skills at playing it have improved much. I keep trying. At least for the time being, the careers of Billy Joel and Elton John are safe.
I often practice at the magnificent piano in the Mayo Clinic's Gonda Building lobby.