Ponder this:

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Send these...the tempest-tost to me

The single best feature of my daily work is meeting the people who come in.

In many ways and places, middle aged women are invisible. In a building, an industry, where people expect to meet Bureaucracy, don't know how even to ask the right question to find the information they need, my friendly middle-aged face seems to be an attraction.

So many of them sidle into the office, or phone, and say, hesitantly, "I don't know if I have the right place, but I'm trying to..." I love meeting those people, taking those calls; they are my specialty. I often feel so tentative myself that when I say "I understand," they know I do. I might not know a lot, but I know who knows, and when they learn that there is, in fact, a human, with a name, and a telephone number they can call, or to whom I will pass along their inquiry, their faces just glow with gratitude, their voices go saggy with relief.

One very voluble woman has come in twice or three times to have documents notarized. I know the whole story of her insurance claim now. How the insurance company wouldn't send her the money ("It's not much probably a couple hundred dollars but it's the principle! It's mine! ...and everybody there knows it's mine but they need...!") until she proved she was her grandfather's granddaughter and how they had the deceased's address in New Jersey instead of wherever he  had truly lived. ("And I'm thinkin' well maybe he had another life a woman on the side that I never knew about hey y'know it happens! But....") A matter of a mistyped middle initial, apparently. How many times she's sent letters and documents ("...certified, return receipt and that's not cheap!") She's talks and laughs and barely stops for breath. I sit back in my chair. She is a wonder to watch and listen to, although the speed and the wealth of detail in each sentence leaves me with only a recording in my head that I must replay once she's left so I know what she's said. She stopped in a week ago, an envelope gripped so tightly in her fist that it crinkled, a  fierce close-mouthed smile on her face and fire in her eyes. "I got it! This is it!" Her smile broke open as ("Hah!") triumphant, she threw her glance Heavenward. "I won! I beat those b******s! Look at this! I got it! Here's the check!"

Last Friday an elderly man stepped slowly through the door, the skin of his upper face white and smooth, arresting cold blue eyes casting around the room for the person he had come to see. He spoke in a Northern Farmer way, the corners of his lips buttoned up like his wool jacket. I offered to take a message and he assented, looking only at my pen poised over the message pad.
"What's your name?" I asked.
"Roger E__," he said.
I said his name sounded familiar.
Uninflected: "It should."
He spared me his telephone number and left, accepting my assurance that my coworker would call him.
I haven't yet gotten the story on Mr. E., but I will be asking.

Post title from The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus.


Von said...

Oh yes you can't beat a friendly face and a welcoming approach to melt ice, soothe troubled waters and get the work done.

Jinksy said...

I did enjoy this little vignette of YOU - which came across so clearly, despite the fact you were writing about others. You have a commendable attitude to others' problems. It is a rare gift.

Wanda..... said...

The people that are in need of your help, probably don't realize how lucky they are, that it's you they are speaking to.
I know how the lady felt. It took us 6 months and countless emails, phone calls, and faxes to our electric company's insurer, to get conpensation, for damages due to an electrical surge to our home, but we did get it!

Lord Wellbourne said...

I know that face and demeanor. I have that face and demeanor. jinksy is right, it is a rare gift. And it can also be a curse. The flip-side is you are sometimes a whipping-boy for all the frustration that has built up in someone who's been given the run-around by others. The 'gift' part is in knowing it's not about you--personally. It's about listening and empathy. If you can hold on to that concept while being berated you're home free. Picture yourself wearing a giant red heart with a big S imposed over it. You are the super hero of composed compassion. Before long 'they' will see it too.

Barb said...

You are an excellent people-watcher, June, and an astute conveyor of character(s). I like the satisfaction this part of your job gives you. PS I wonder how you'd describe me - I shudder to think of it...

rachel said...

I love the invisibility that comes with middle age. It's freeing. Not only can I go out shopping in bag-lady clothes, but I don't care; no one notices. No one expects much of me, and it's a relief. I can smile at or talk to other people's children without their parents clutching them in fear. And the invisibility lifts when necessary: I'm the neighbour who may not be the first one you think of to invite to your parties, but who is the first you think of who will come to your aid in emergency, and I'm comfortable with that. The self-consciousness of youth has been left behind, and I feel more authentically myself, year upon year.

And, like your customers, I do tend to favour the friendly middle-aged face myself when I need help or advice, because I know I'm likely to be heard.

BTW, I'm reading your blog for the first time, with much pleasure.

June said...

Von, so true!

Jinksy, you're too kind. People SO OFTEN apologize before they've even asked, and they're SO thankful! That makes it easy to have a "commendable attitude."

Wanda, I think they do realize how lucky they are, judging by their expressions of gratitude. Makes me feel good.

LW, it's all that waiting tables training, really.

Barb, I know a woman who seems very similar to you. Salt of the earth.

Rachel, thank you so much for coming by! And yes, isn't it true? So much easier to be middle-aged!