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December 5, 2010

Well-being: The Beginning of a Very Long Story

by Kristina Amelong 

(PART 1 of Kristina's personal wellness story entitled "Golden Arches")

What is well-being? How do we create well-being within our own lives? What do we need to learn to attend to life’s challenges with a growing vitality?

In her diary, A Burst of Light: Living with Cancer, Audre Lorde writes, "Another secret is to find some particular thing your soul craves for nourishment -- a different religion, a quiet spot, a dance class -- and satisfy it. That satisfaction does not have to be costly or difficult. Only a need that is recognized, articulated, and answered."

My journey of well-being began at McDonald's, the day I turned 16. I showed up drunk that first day, or, more accurately, hung over -- I had been drinking an assortment of stolen liquor since 8 a.m. By 4 p.m., the start of my 3-hour Friday night shift, I boasted a respectable hangover.

My job was buns. My entire focus centered on the hamburger bun, top and bottom -- the same bun found in the Happy Meal. I was to listen for the woman in the blue uniform to call out some number of burgers, always a multiple of two.

"Twelve burgers!"

As I split each white bun in half, I placed the tops face down on one stainless steel tray and the bottoms face up on a separate stainless steel tray. I then put the tray of the bottom buns, lying face up, in the toaster.

The waiting part was the hardest -- standing with nothing to do (which I was quickly trained not to do). This nothingness invariably led my attention to just how deathly ill I felt. At one point, I ran to the bathroom to throw up. Luckily, no one seemed to notice.

Sixty seconds later, the bun buzzer went off. I scrambled to take the stainless steel sheet and its buns out of the toaster, without losing any. Once this was done, the tops went in. Next I placed the perfect amount of mustard, ketchup, onions, and pickles on the bun. Once accomplished, I called out, "Cheese on a dozen?"

The woman in the blue uniform responded, "Eight, please."

Finally, I placed all twelve tops onto the tray of twelve burgers in one elegant move. Done!

Throughout the years, five in all, I delighted in the burgers I flipped, the French fries I brought to a crispy perfection, and the Coca Cola I passed off with a smile. But preparing and serving the food weren't the only skills I learned.

While my time at McDonald's may have contributed to my later chronic illness, in many ways it also helped to save my life:
  • I learned how to think and how to work with people
  • I learned how to be a part of a team and how to show up
  • I learned how to listen, work hard and respond flexibly to new situations
  • and, I learned how to improve myself
Now, at 46, I am continually awed at how the skills I learned at McDonald's help me to stay healthy, grow emotionally, and attend to life's challenges. Join me as I share my journey of well-being in continued posts.


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