When I lived in Massachusetts, Thursday nights (or was it Wednesday? I don't remember!) were special; I used to get together with two other couples for an evening of pizza, Friends, Seinfield and Kramer. We'd all sit around, laughing and recalling the week's events, the good and the bad, offering encouragement and support, and sometimes a little wisdom.
One of the couples, Dennis and Linda, was very active in their church, and they'd warm to their stories of their church's activities and their participation. One night I asked Dennis, "You love the church so much, why aren't you a missionary? It would just seem such a natural path. Or is it because you met Linda and she changed all that?" I teased.
He laughed his easy, soft laugh. "Well, Linda did change my life that's for sure." He grinned,looked shyly at her, making her smile back at him. "My work is my missionary. I get to be outside everyday,enjoy nature, talk to people. Many of my customers are friends." he explained simply. "Some may see me as just a postal carrier, but everyday I meet someone who needs a kind word or a helping hand. I know it's not showy like working for the Peace Corp or being a missionary saving souls in a third world country. But you know what? I can't tell you how many times Ive been told that I'm the only person who has acknowledged them. In my own way, I make a difference."
The other day, I was speed walking down the hallways of the office where I work, feeling as though I was running late after stepping out to purchase a cola. After weighing the pros and cons of elevator versus stairway, I chose the elevator. At the same time a young mother with two little boys boarded the elevator with me. I pushed Level 2, turned and asked her where she was going. "One," she said, "we're headed out." I nodded, smiled politely, pushed one. And as people in elevators often do, I pretended to ignore the other passengers; after all it's only polite, right?
The young mother blurted out, "Can I ask you for a favor? Can you go to the first floor with me? I have claustrophobia and I hate elevators. It would help me if you went with me." Her two little boys were oblivious to their mother's anxiety as they raced about in tight circles around her, but I saw her green eyes open as the doors closed and the elevator shrugged downward.
Truthfully, my first reaction was to be a little peeved; I was in a hurry for heaven's sake! Her eyes did not leave mine and I felt small and petty. "Sure," I said. "Be glad to."
Her face was awash with relief and her mouth relaxed into a small smile. I studied her for a moment, weighing what I wanted to say. "You know what I read one time? That sometimes when people have a fear of closed-in places, it's because of a birth trauma memory. Your subconscious mind remembers and your adult conscious mind translates it to fear of enclosed spaces."
She gave such a knee jerk reaction that she started us both. "Yes!" she said.
I breathed deeply and released my breath, and unknowingly she did the same. "Feel better, freer?" I asked her.
Her eyes shone bright with gratitude and new understanding. She grabbed her sons' hands. "Yes, I do! Thank you so much." The elevator doors opened, and she and her sons stepped out. She looked back at me one more time, and whispered, "Thank you again."
The doors closed, I pressed the button for the second level again. That small exchange maybe only took 45 seconds out of my workday, but they are moments that will stay with me for a long, long time.
The workplace as a missionary. Wow.