Serving Coffee

Yesterday at 4:45, 15 minutes before our office closes, a young woman walked through the door and inquired about any open job positions we might have available. She had mousy brown hair that was snarled, a pale thin face that belied her youth as time and a hard life had aged her, her clothes were well worn and a few sizes to big. She spoke with the quiet voice of someone who places her value far below that of the person she is addressing, and she appeared exhausted physically, mentally and spiritually.

Our HR Coordinator was conducting an interview so I conversed with the young woman. We spoke of generalities and then got into the type of work she was looking for. She had been suffering with debilitating headaches for 8 years and was on disability but still wanted to have a “job” so she could feel useful. Her illness had cost her family almost everything and the knowledge that she was such a burden to them was too much for her to bear.

She said she would do any odd job we had like cleaning, making copies, running errands, “I will serve coffee, I’m good at that!” I smiled at her enthusiasm while at the same time my heart was breaking for this woman who was just a girl a few years ago. She told me she could never have an important job like mine because she is not all pretty and put together like me. 

When she said that I wanted to wipe off my makeup, put on my normal “at home” clothes and say “I am just like you!! I’m a grown woman who is still that terrified girl inside wondering if today is the day I can’t pay my bills. I too have medical expenses, $20,000 worth that scare me to death. We are the same, high heels and mascara do not give you importance!! You are special and I believe in you!”

But I remained silent as she hesitantly poured forth her story, her dreams of doing something with her life, her fears and frustrations. Again she pled with me to give her any kind of work and in my mind I was wishing I owned a company so I could help her, give her a job, give her some self worth. I remained silent and just listened feeling completely helpless and worthless since all I could do was hear this woman out.

As she prepared to leave I handed her our HR Coordinator’s card and told her to call and see what could be available. She pulled her hood up against the cold and before she walked out the door she turned and said “Thank you Mam and God bless You!” I said to her “I didn’t do much so no need to thank me!” She replied “You listened to me.”

The four most profound words I have heard in all my years “You listened to me.” I thought about those words all night and yet again today, hence this post. How many people out there just want someone to listen to them? To take the time out and give them just a moment of undivided attention, to make them feel like they matter? 

These days technology allows us to do more and more online without having to deal directly with people while at the same time allowing us to connect with individuals from around the globe. I wonder if in the process of connecting us on the web it really is tearing us apart from one another. We can chat with someone across the ocean on our phones and devices while our next door neighbor feels utterly alone and dejected. “You listened to me” rings in my ears, makes me think, makes me want to be a better person, one who does listen to others, one who gives others that modicum of security knowing that at least one person cares, and to make a difference somehow.

I learned yesterday that sometimes when you feel like you have done nothing for someone simply because you cannot hand them the world you actually have done more, you have stopped the world and focused on them at a time when they were perhaps feeling insignificant. Maybe the greatest gift you can give someone truly is the gift of your time.

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