“Excuse me,” said someone behind me.

I turned around. A young man who had been working quietly for hours had approached the reference desk.


“I just wanted to say … you are so nice.

He must have overheard me working with another patron. I smiled and thanked him. And kept smiling.

While I would like to say that the work is its own reward, it is not enough when so many other negative things detract from it. Compliments like this buoy me for days.


I stepped off the 19 Polk with a mad grin.  The driver had been brilliant, announcing all the stops and transfer points, and even complimenting riders as they stepped onto the bus. “I love those boots, girl!” “C’mon up, beautiful!” She told me she loved my hat and called me cute as I thanked her and hopped off.

Trader Joe’s was aflutter with pre-dinner preparations. The cashier tried to make small-talk with the women in front of me, but they were dour and busy. He gave me a look and a shrug as if to say, I tried. He, too, complimented my hat, so I thanked him, and we exchanged those small pleasantries that make the line go faster.

As I was waiting for the 27 Bryant in an unfamiliar part of town, a young man, scruffy but cogent, was roaming a nearby parking lot.  He picked up a downed piece of fence and tossed it at the side of the concrete building a few times, seemingly out of boredom. I looked away, gauged my other bus-waiting options, pondered the dangers of walking instead – those things you do when you live in a city.  After a while, he emerged from the parking lot and saw me. Slowly, he approached.

I felt no threat as he walked up, hands at his sides, head slightly lowered.  It wasn’t that I hadn’t thought about what would happen if he attacked; there were plenty of cars passing by, and I had quite a set of lungs and boots.  His demeanor was not that of an attacker.  He looked like a little kid caught doing something.

“Hello. Do you work there?” he turned slightly to the building with a small shuffle of his feet.

“No, I don’t. I am just waiting for the bus.” I made eye contact, smiled politely, then looked away as if to accentuate the fact that I had not noticed him near the building.

“There are cool things by the parking lot. Flowers and sculptures and things.“  I had noticed these, but barely, so I nodded but did not encourage.

He stepped to the side again.  The side of his face I could see was turning red.  “I went to the restroom in the parking lot. Did you see me?” His use of the word restroom instead of bathroom surprised me.

“I didn’t see you,” I reassured him.

“OK. I went to the restroom there.”

I shrugged, “I don’t think anyone could see.”

“All right.  Thank you.” With a flat gesture of his palm out to me, almost as if he meant to shake my hand, he bowed slightly.

I did not move.  “You’re welcome. Have a good night.”

He shoved his hands in his pockets and wandered up the street.


Today I received a compliment of such magnitude that I can barely internalize it, hours later.  It caused me to think deeply about self-worth, and how we decide whether or not we “deserve” compliments.

I put that in quotes because I wonder if it is relevant what we decide about someone else’s opinion.  A genuine compliment is paid regardless of the agreement of the recipient.

For much of my life, I have struggled with the concept of what I deserve versus what I receive.  With few exceptions, I have been what some have called blessed with good fortune, and that, coupled with a strong Roman Catholic upbringing, comes no small amount of concern that I have not earned it.

Yet we earn compliments without having to agree with them. It would be cleaner if we agreed, of course; it is rude to respond to a compliment with a negative statement, not to mention pointless (unless one is angling for the follow-up reaffirmation). Does the compliment, like the insult, say more about the giver than the recipient?

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I acknowledge that I live and work on stolen Cowlitz, Clackamas, Atfalati, and Kalapuya land.
I give respect and reverence to those who came before me.