- Special Sections
- Public Notices
“People are work, brother. A lot of work. Too much work.” So said Detective Frank Keller (Al Pacino) a New York City detective in the 1989 movie Sea of Love. Keller had just solved an emotionally draining, life threatening, relationship changing investigation of a serial killer. In the movie, Keller falls in love with Helen Cruger (Ellen Barkin) who happens to be a main suspect in the case and doesn’t know that Keller is an undercover detective. They begin a serious relationship, but she rejects Keller, who had just saved her life, because she felt deceived by him. The “people are work” quote comes close to the end of the movie, when Keller is venting his frustration in a bar to his friend and fellow detective Sherman Touhey, played by John Goodman.
On occasion I have echoed the Pacino quote. I can identify with the minister in the cartoon that shows him arriving home late for supper. When his wife asks him why he is an hour late, he replies, with a tired, bewildered look on his face, “I asked Mrs. Jones how she was doing.”
People can be work indeed. And some people are as Pacino observed, “a lot of work.” We all know those special folks who try our patience, push our buttons, and unravel our day. As Mme. de Stael said, “The more I see of man, the more I like dogs.”
I recall my dad, a dentist, shaking his head late one Saturday night after a patient called him. Seems this man had a real emergency, a toothache that was unbearable. “And how long has it been bothering you?” Dad asked. “All week,” the man replied. “But I just didn’t have time to make an appointment earlier in the week, and now, I can’t stand it, Doc. Can I meet you at your office now and get it pulled?” “Now,” happened to be midnight.
People are work. The problem is, unless you are a hermit or a solitary scientist in a think tank somewhere, people are an unavoidable part of work. Without people, we have no work. That reminds me of the burned out school teacher who confessed, “I love teaching; it’s just the students I can’t stand.”
So, what to do with those few - those ones who are “a lot of work,” the minority whose voices cackle with the loudness of a majority, the small ones who can gulp huge portions of our time and attention?
Psychologists recommend sharing your frustration with someone you totally trust. That’s what Pacino was doing. If you have no such person, get alone and shout it out. Let off some steam. And, as much as possible, don’t take it personally. Conflicted people bring conflict. And even though you have to stand your ground, don’t fight back. The Psalmist said, “Seek peace and work to maintain it.” A dear elderly lady used to say to me, a young, inexperienced pastor, “Just rise above it.” That’s not bad advice, regardless of your profession. Within that, remember, maintaining boundaries is essential because some people will dominate you, sucking the joy from your life, draining you of the energy you need for the ones who matter most.
And sometimes people surprise us. In my first full time pastorate, I didn’t mow the lawn of the church parsonage. Soon after I had arrived, one of the church members grumbled to me, “Our former pastor mowed the lawn.” I responded, tongue in cheek, “Well, I called him and he doesn’t want to come back and mow it.” The disgruntled church member wasn’t amused with my stab at humor.
But in time, my grumpity critic invited me to join him and some others on a mission trip to help build a church in Indiana. And I hesitatingly agreed. Maybe it happened on the road trip, or perhaps it was in working side by side, but somewhere in the process, he ceased to be “a lot of work” and became a friend. He requested that I preside at his funeral. And years later, I did.
Sometimes, not often, but sometimes, those “a lot of work” people enlighten our eyes to new and fascinating vistas of life. After all, in that movie, Sea of Love, Helen Kruger forgave Frank Keller (Al Pacino), and if they got married, she would have become Helen Keller.
People are work, but sometimes they can help us see that even in darkness, there is light.
Editor’s note: Life Matters is written by David B. Whitlock, Ph.D. Whitlock’s email is email@example.com and his website is DavidBWhitlock.com.