Thursday, November 08, 2012

An Unexpected Lesson From Margaret


I've worked hard to get this job that I have now.  I've endured the unique humiliations reserved for call center employees.  If you've ever worked in one, you know.  Having to go to the bathroom but holding it until the call ends or until your next scheduled break.  Getting screamed and cursed at for doing your job.  Doing something, or not doing something that you know was an error and freaking out inside because you think you may have just lost your job.  Anything and maybe everything is recorded, monitored, checked, graded.  These scores can determine your next raise, if you get one, and how much.  Being tethered to your desk by a telephone headset cord.  Now I'm untethered. I can go to the bathroom when my body needs to.  I don't get yelled at. I'm not monitored.  In fact, I am now one of the monitors.  And I bring to this job a deep sense of compassion for the call center employees that I now try and coach to better their performance.  I am grateful, though, not to be in their position anymore.


Which is why, when my manager announced that for our monthly "Team Building Event" we were going to participate in United Way's Day of Caring I was like, "OK, why not?"  My company gives its employees two paid days to volunteer in the community and this was the first time I'd ever used any of those days.  I like not being tethered to a desk and I like the Quality Analysts I work with.  I was curious and eager to participate.  Until I heard what we were assigned to do.  Our group had been charged with assisting an older couple who lived out in the country, in a trailer.  The woman had fallen a couple years ago and was now disabled and her husband needed help with some yard work.  They needed windows washed, the back of the house painted, weeds pulled, some bushes moved.  I'm thinking this is going to be hard.  Really hard.  I was right.  The husband wasn't some frail old guy.  He was a friendly and robust man in his sixties.  He'd been taking care of his wife, the house, his job on the farm, everything.  But the landscaping was now overgrown.  And yes, they lived in not just one trailer, but two, a sprawling double wide beautiful home.  So eighteen of us set to work, but no, not until we met Margaret.  Bill insisted we had to meet his wife.  So all of us crowded into their living room where Margaret sat in her recliner that lifted her up with her walker beside her.  She thanked us before we had done a thing.  She choked up as she expressed her appreciation for us being there at all.



My job was window washing and when I had finished the outside I went inside.  Margaret was delighted to see me and asked me if I had any "stories."  I said I had a few.  She said, "I've had so much fun listening to all these stories.  You all have such good tales!"  She started telling me about a book she was reading and about her friendship of forty years.  She told me her husband was the love of her life.  I had mentioned my children, so she said, "Tell me your story. Do you have a love?"  I said I'd had a few.  She wanted to know more.  So I told her I was no longer with my children's father, but that I was with my love.  She asked his name and how we met.  Somehow I ended up telling her all about Mike and my best friend Jonna.  She said, "Oh, so you have one of those long friendships, too!"  I told her yes, we were friends for thirty years but she died three years ago, and how that broke me.  I shared how Mike helped me grieve through that very rough time and how I took my best friend's perfume and went to all our old haunts and sprayed the perfume to smell her once more in those familiar places and to say gooodbye.  Mike walked with me through woods and around our old high school and the old neighborhood.  I would stop at a certain spot that held a strong memory and I'd tell Mike the stories.  He listened intently and told me he would have liked to have been there.  Margaret thanked me for telling her that story and that it meant so much to her that I shared it.

As I was washing the window in Bill's office, he came in and showed me the books that he'd written and published on his computer.  His latest work in progress is a romance that tells the story of how he and Margaret met.  He told his stories.  And Margaret told hers.  And every person that walked into that house that day was asked to tell theirs.  One of us would go in to use the bathroom and Margaret would call from her chair the living room, "Come see me when you're finished!"  And so she elicited more stories.  Every time I went in to use the bathroom, someone different was seated next to her talking  and telling her their stories.



It was brutal work that day.  The "weeds" were thick, sticker-bushy brush.  The "bushes" were tree-like.  There were a lot of windows, double paned storm windows.  The gnats were horrendous and got in our mouths, eyes, and noses.  We rolled wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow full of brush and vines and limbs to the compost hill.  We were exhausted and sore.  Margaret thanked us.  Bill thanked us.  We went home.

Stories.  I'm telling this one.  It has become one of mine.  We all have stories to tell and to write and to share, but we don't often think of them as stories or as something anyone wants to hear.  Sometimes we think the story has to be a whopper or about some amazing adventure to be worth telling.  But Margaret  made me realize that everything that happens to us is a story worth telling.

Tarot illustrates our stories and allows us to see them in a kind of set-apart from ourselves way.  It has a way of bringing characters to life, shows us what they feel and think and how they play a part in the plot progression.  When we lay out the cards and say, "Show me what I need to know" we are illustrating the situation, illuminating the parts we need a visual to understand.  As a tarot reader, I am like Margaret.  Tell me your story.  Let's read it together. 




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