Sunday, October 4, 2009

Worth My Time?

I used to be a commissioned insurance sales person. It was a job I was coerced into; I didn't like it; I was extremely resentful because of unfortunate circumstances that forced me to be there. I showed up every day but I was determined to punish and exact some satisfaction of revenge on my employer by failing to meet sales goals and deftly, and oh so cleverly, turning away clients. In the end I was the one who suffered my few commissioned sales and a miserly paycheck and a miserable future.

However, while I was so cleverly cutting off the branch on which I was standing, I discovered I had a knack for listening to people and drawing them out. The more I listened, the more people wanted to talk. In a job where potential and established clients were supposed to be hustled in and out as if we were in a 20-items or less checkout line, my clients lingered and shared some of their most intimate and amazing thoughts. That lady there? She was molested by her uncle when she was seven. That widow? Loved her husband but glad he's gone because now she's free to do as she has always wanted to be. That teenager? Hates his stepdad and his mother for marrying him and is driving angry, building up points on his license. And the elderly gentleman and his beautiful wife, still happily married after 45 years, holding hands, reinforcing my hope that love does endure and that marriage is tender bond.

My employer disapproved of the length of time I expended, as time was money; criticism and subsequent training flowed. It was made abundantly clear that my time was to be spent in making them money, and as it turns out in making me money too, though I was too stubborn to admit it, too late in seeing that I was hurting myself financially and personally, and too stubborn to relieve us all of my anger and seek employment elsewhere.

One afternoon, a young man, in his mid-30's, of Indian culture judging from his liquid black eyes, brown skin and musical accent, came into the office, seeking auto insurance on a newly acquired vehicle. It had been a slow day for me, perhaps I had had only one client earlier and no one scheduled for the rest of the day. My time was his, and I was grateful for the distraction and for the opportunity to look busy. He handed me the paperwork to register and title his vehicles, I scanned it, noting that the buyer's name and signatures were omitted.

At first he seemed pleasant enough, and the transaction was one I had done hundreds of times and I could virtually complete in my sleep. I asked him for his name, which he promptly provided, picked up my pen to fill in the missing information on the forms. "No, wait!" he interrupted. "I want this to be in my wife's name."

"Okay," I readily agreed (giving the customer what he wants is paramount to making a sale). "But your wife will have to sign the forms."

"She doesn't know I bought the car but I want her to have it." He leaned over the desk, his upper body touching the desk top as he gave me a pleading look.

"The laws are pretty strict, I'm sorry. I can't put a vehicle in your wife's name without her written signatures. We just can't go about registering and titling vehicles in another person's name. Imagine the possible disastrous consequences."

He was not mollified. "If something happens to me, I want her to have the vehicle," he persisted.

"If something happens to you, this vehicle will become part of your estate, and if there are no children, will go to your wife. It's a bit of a hullabaloo, but from personal experience, it does eventually work out. I must caution you that your best advice is from a lawyer. Or you can ask your wife to come in and we can put everything in her name then, or we can put the paperwork in both names and then you can take it to your wife and she can also sign."

"Things are so different in this country," he said. "I am from India." His voice was trailed off. "I miss my country. I married my wife who is American, and we came here to live. She told me that there was so much opportunity here, but I cannot find one job. In my country, I was an accountant, like your CPAs. My degrees are not accepted here. I have applied many many times." Two hours slipped by as he spoke of his beloved country and family and of his difficulties in adapting to American life.

"Do you know H&R Block? I see that they are always advertising for people to do tax returns. I don't know anything about them, other than they're a huge outfit. I know people without accounting degrees who work for them. Certainly with your knowledge and their training, you could find a position there. Perhaps you could eventually consult or open your own office. Perhaps the answer is not necessarily to work for another but to work for yourself?"

He body straightened and his eyes brightened. "Yes, I will check out H&R Block." He stared thoughtfully at the papers in my hand. "We will put the vehicle in my name."

In a course of ten minutes I had completed and applied the appropriate stamps and he went on his way.

The office manager, a woman with a booming voice, swung her hips, like flashing caution signals, down the aisle to my desk. "Took you long enough. How much money did you make?"

"He ended up buying minimal insurance; he's unemployed." I squirmed beneath her glare but nevertheless felt a slight perverse delight at her annoyance with me.

"Then he wasn't worth your time. We don't want minimum insurance clients."

I don't remember how much time had passed, two, three, four months, but he showed up at my desk again, registration plates in hands. "I want to cancel the auto insurance," he said as he handed the bug-and-mud encrusted plates to me. "I am going back to India." He did not sit this time, poised as if rushed.

"Oh, how lovely!" I said.

He shrugged in resignation. "Yes, I shall see my family, but my wife will not return with me. We have decided to divorce. I do not like it here and she does not like it there. There is no other way."

"Oh, I am sorry that it didn't work out for you. You have had many difficult decisions. I hope that this one will bring you happiness."

"Yes, many difficult decisions." His eyes were so dark that I could not discern the pupil; his gaze was soft and liquid. "May I tell you something?" I nodded, not taking my eyes from his. "Do you remember when I came here the first time, and I wanted to put the vehicle in my wife's name?"

"Yes, and we put everything in your name."

"I wanted everything in my wife's name because I wanted her to have the car and everything else that was mine. I had planned to register the car in her name and then go home and commit suicide. I did not want any problems for her. I was so discouraged, no friends, no family, no job. But after talking with you, you gave me so much hope, that I changed my mind. And now I go home. I could have taken the plates to the Registry myself, but I wanted to see you and to thank you."

He extended a hand and we shook hands, clasping each other's hand longer than is socially acceptable for a polite handshake. I wished him well and he left.

As soon as he was out of earshot and eyesight the bosomy office manager was at my desk again. She stared fixedly at the registration plates. "Turning in his plates and cancelling his insurance! I warned you that we don't want minimum insurance clients. He just wasn't worth your time."


  1. Oh my....
    Katy...what a lesson! one tiny moment....and a gift of a lifetime and hope. There is no price that can be put on compassion...on time...on lending an ear....patience and giving. Oh that we would be selfless...and open to others. Even if we don't know their needs....we must listen to the inner spirit within to guide us to say and do the right thing when talking to others. Time and time again I see how that 'moment' can make a difference. I too have been on the receiving end of good and bad moments that others have given me. This path or that path...this direction or that direction....often the signaling signs that direct us are given by strangers...who don't do the right thing in their moment with us. I will hold those thots in my heart this week ahead....again...what a lesson dear Katy.

  2. Moments like this one have been my life lesson and path. Over and over I have had these experiences. Words matter, listening matters. Listening is what I do best, to listen with mercy, which is like something in Proverbs, I think, but I think it had to do with always speak with mercy. It's the words that trip me. I am working on the words.

  3. are not tripping much lately dear Katy for your words speak volumes! Trust me..grin!

  4. As always, Katypi, I am in awe... Kathye

  5. Wow, Katy, what a beautiful story. I wonder if a magazine like Reader's Digest would be interested in publishing it? It's a memorable one.

  6. What a touching story and a what a credit to you. I'm sure the man from India will never forget you. Submit CUTE or FUNNY photos and tell friends to vote for them. No entry fee.