Conversations with Strangers Part 2 – The Phone Call

stress-words_Wallowing in self-pity never results in anything positive, and I’m generally annoyed by people who use it to gain attention.

At the same time, I’ve been told that sometimes the behaviors that annoy us most are the ones we revert to when we are at our worst.

I was at my worst this week.

Nothing horrible or life shattering happened. I just had to deal with some difficult and taxing situations at work. By the time I got home each night, I was too exhausted to do much more than complain about how tired and stressed I was.

I deal with people who struggle to meet their basic needs on a daily basis, so I should recognize how fortunate I am to have a warm and safe home to take shelter in each night. I have friends who are struggling with serious health issues, so I should wake up grateful for a (relatively) strong body and mind. I know people who go to jobs in which their only reward is a paycheck, and I should realize that being passionate about my work is more gratifying than any financial reward.

And yet, I forget.

This week I forgot so much and complained so much about my stress that I was even starting to annoy myself.

Which is why, when my cell phone rang at 6:30 on Friday night, I almost didn’t answer it. The caller i.d. showed that a volunteer from my office was trying to reach me, and I thought I had reached maximum capacity for anything work-related. At the same time, the responsible side of my personality (the stronger one that completing despises my whining and self-pitying side) had to answer the phone.

So I answered it, and the call served as a wonderful reminder of why I should be grateful for feeling overwhelmed at times.

The volunteer actually wanted me to speak with his wife, who was also interested in being a volunteer. The couple recently retired in another state and  moved to my town to be nearer to their children and grandchildren.

I’d never met the woman who I spoke with on the phone, but on a cold evening in February, she was the only person who was able  put my week in perspective.

I initially tried to hurry her off the phone. After confirming when she would come in to discuss volunteer opportunities, I said, “Have a good weekend.”

She wouldn’t let me go that quickly.

“I’m just hoping you can help me,” she said.

That shut me up.

“My mother is 94 years old,” she said. ” That means I likely have 30 years of retirement ahead of me. Everyone tells you that retirement is great.  No one tells you that no one values your skills anymore.”

She went on. “I used to take pride in my work.  I liked contributing something. I don’t feel as though I’m doing that now.”

I told her I understood.

And I did.

I may complain about all the stress in my life, but that stress means that I’m overwhelmed by demands on my time and talents. That stress means that others depend on me and need me. That stress means that I’m valued and that others recognize how important my contributions are.

In other words, the type of stress I experienced last week  is a reflection of what I value most: the ability to make a difference to others.

The woman I talked to on Friday night may or may not decide to be a volunteer at my office. But whether she does or not,  she’s already made a difference in my life.

Sometimes, strangers can do that.

 

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About Trina Bartlett

I live in the Eastern Panhandle of WV, with one dog, two cats, a daughter in high school, a son starting his latest adventures at West Virginia University and a husband who works strange hours. When I'm not working as a director at a nonprofit social service organization or being a mom, I can generally be found riding my bike, walking my dog and stirring things up.

Posted on February 8, 2015, in My life, people, perspective, Work and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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