Back in the day, I worked in a regional billing office for a national insurance company. There were six of us on the phone, each of us taking in about 200 phone calls a day from clients who had questions regarding their bills. I don't think I need to tell you, but I'm going to say it anyway, they weren't calling us to give thanks for sending them a bill or a cancellation notice. We had to develop a thick skin to deflect all the threats and verbal abuse and still deliver civil service.
We heard all the excuses: my dog ate the bill (probably the same dog that ate their kid's homework), they moved, they divorced and their ex-spouse is throwing away all their mail, the garbage disposal ate it (for those folks who couldn't have a dog), the mailman doesn't like them and refuses to deliver. And the winning excuse was the woman who said she was in Boston, nightclubbing, when she was accosted, beaten, and raped, her handbag stolen, which had her bill in it. Now the women in the office rallied for her and gave her an extension on her bill, and just as the phone was being hung up, she was heard laughing to her coworkers about what an actress she was. She was immediately called back. Can you say canceled?
We became hardened and cynical and, shamefully, vainglorious. We'd swap stories about the calls we received and laugh and coach each other on how to handle the tough customers.
But they weren't all tough.
One morning, a woman called, cancellation of her auto insurance to be effective in 28 days. She was a Boston resident, and her annual premiums were probably three times greater than her suburban peers. But hey, that's the price for living In Town, right? You choose to live there, you choose to pay the price. That's was the rhetoric we were taught to speak.
She was soft-spoken; fatigue weighed down her words. She wasn't calling to dump blame on us; she wasn't looking for sympathy; she was calling us to find a solution. She needed her car, she needed to work because she needed to eat and a place to live. But the minimum amount required would take an entire paycheck. Could I do take less and let her keep her insurance.
By this time we, collectively, had taken a hard line about accepting less than the minimum and giving extensions. I explained company policy. She sighed, defeated.
A moment of inspiration stuck me. "You could pay week by week, though, if you wanted. Just take the $300 and divide it into four equal payments. As long as we get the full amount before the due date, you'll be all set."
"Really? I can do that?" Her voice lilted. "I can do that! That's like what my mama taught me: inch by inch, it's a cinch. yard by yard, it's hard. I'll see you money every week"
I don't remember that lady's name. I don't remember if she made her weekly payments and kept her policy in force. I do remember the bit of wisdom that she left me with and have applied it to my life.
Just this week, I decided to do some yard work. It's become a big project but I am determined. I'm older and my body rebels. The arthritis acts up and my back aches; I move slower. I have become my mother. Aspirin is my bedside companion. Ole Sweetie-Pi watched me haul out the rake and the brush clippers and the shovel. "Whatcha going to do?" he asks.
"Yard work," I say, as if it weren't obvious to him.
"Too much for you to do. We should hire someone."
"I'm going to work half an hour a day on it," I say.
"That won't amount to much, half an hour. You'll be wasting your time. Let's hire someone to do it."
I agree with him. "Okay, good idea. Let's hire someone." In the meantime, while Ole Sweetie-Pi is researching to find the ideal worker, I plug away in the yard 30 minutes a day. Today, the sun was hot and I was sweaty. My arms and back were screaming in discomfort. I stood up as straight as I could and admired the difference my collective efforts has made.
Inch by inch.