“Everyone hates Census people,” a friend cautioned after I told him I’m an enumerator for the 2020 Census. Fortunately, I hadn’t heard that rumor early enough to dissuade my …
“Everyone hates Census people,” a friend cautioned after I told him I’m an enumerator for the 2020 Census. Fortunately, I hadn’t heard that rumor early enough to dissuade my applying pre-pandemic. I applied because I thought it would be fun! I was looking forward to meeting and helping neighbors. Once the coronavirus came, I felt more patriotic about the responsibility. I figured my social service background would serve me while dealing with strangers amidst a precarious political climate. I expected and accepted, in civic duty, a certain degree of chaos and challenge in the COVID-19 pandemic year of the 2020 Census.
As a matter of perspective, I saw my friend’s warning as a gift which yielded tremendous benefits. Much like data analytics, made privy to this perception, I was better able to meet my audience. I resolved to be the least threatening enumerator possible. Seeing myself less Pollyanna, more Mr. Rogers, I endeavored to go in corny and come out cool. I wear my brightest smize (smile with your eyes ‘a la Tyra Banks, who’s inspired me to coin the term smiracles: miracles we choose to see). When folks seem uncomfortable upon approach, I address the elephant in the room. Before they can show it, “I know ‘everyone hates Census people. I don’t know why,’” I dramatize, “‘it’s not like I’m the IRS!’” Astonishing even to me, this sappy bit ensures the laugh that breaks the ice and, like magic, folks warm up. Other times, I can practically hear “fi, fi, fo, fum” as crusty grumps trudge out from the darkness. By the conclusion of the brief interview, the spell is broken. The ogres that answered the door become noblemen who gallantly linger upon valuable information I may need on other houses nearby. I thank the kind sirs, though I’m inclined to curtsy.
The only challenges I have encountered are to my own erroneous assumptions. Some of my most apprehensive moments return precious memories. One day at a complex mostly vacant with uninhabitability, my unvalidated fears were met head-on by a tiny terrier and a butterfly. As if suddenly photoshopped, the littered footpath was magically transformed, as Benji or Toto, accompanied by this weaving Monarch, greeted me down the Yellow Brick Road. Benji’s owner said the butterfly was around all day. “I know it sounds strange,” he confessed, “but I think it’s my mom!” I then told of the late great self-help guru Dr. Wayne Dyer, who reported a similar phenomenon with a divinely guided butterfly. I’m not the only one to see miracles. Smiracles!
Outside a gated community, I was approached by the most delightful lady. Friendly, helpful, courteous, she epitomized the Gold Neighbor standard. Humbled by this woman I recognized as Hasidic, she proved we are more alike than different. We spoke on common ground: namely, motherhood. She told me her daughters had worked for the Census. I told her how my son enjoyed a Jewish wedding so much, he may just end up marrying a nice Jewish girl. “It could happen!” said she, sharing a giggle. Somberly, she admitted not liking how people, even in her own culture, could be too “exclusive.” We spoke of health and nutrition, agreeing all processed food, kosher or otherwise, wasn’t worth the packaging it came in. Over a matter of minutes, she felt like a forever friend. Our mutual regard made it hard to say goodbye.
An additional perk I enjoy is the multigenerational engagement. Inordinately bored in isolating times, children seem interested in the survey. Bigger kids translate for grandparents, the littlest share their names when prompted by parents. I tell these young participants how the Census is in our Constitution and that they are now part of that legacy. Younger children stand an inch taller when validated, older ones respond with wide eyes upon hearing Thomas Jefferson was the first to oversee the Census. These are proud moments we share. Children esteemed by their inclusion, parents esteemed by their child’s adult exchange and I am esteemed by them. My patriotism surges and suddenly the Census feels more important than ever: that each of us inherently matters enough to be counted, as our forefathers promised when they indoctrinated this survey within the Law of the Land. Those kids, their parents and I are so much more than the sum of our parts. Beyond neighbors, together we are those who make a great nation. E Pluribus Unum.
My motivation to work for the Census was essentially the same for writing this column: my belief in the common good and, simply, to be a better neighbor. I surely see strife, but looking deeper, I might possibly find a silver lining. Catastrophe births heroes, after all. Yet, when problems feel daunting, we can step away from the Mode: that place where people too often are, with full focus on their screened gadgets, consumed by both social and anti-social media in a mixed messy bag of mostly misery. Peering out a window, or looking inside oneself in self-reflection, is bound to hold a better view. Perhaps focusing on something even bigger than us all can make a difference. Maybe it’s the Census or the neighborhood. It’s a place I’m inviting you to: a place where we all matter, where we all count.
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