Twelfth Night was yesterday, Christmas is officially over. With all the expectations that we place on holidays, I'm sort of surprised we continue to celebrate them.
I think that's part of the problem with public servants, too. Some see us as captives behind a desk, unable to escape the unreasonable request or expectation. It's why people get burned out, in my opinion. They feel too vulnerable for too long, never knowing who will explode when. It's hard for some people to be perpetually flexible.
On the other hand, though some requests are out of the ordinary, they can soften the heart instead of break it. I was with Creative Librarian between Christmas and New Year's, a quiet week here. A man in a wheelchair motored up to the desk and parked. It was obvious that we were not busy, that we were available to listen to him.
He began by asking about our holidays and telling about his. Then he told us that he volunteered at one of the local schools, helping students with homework and research. Then he moved on to the weather, cold and then warm, the ever-changing Midwestern climate.
I kept wondering when the punch line was coming. "May I help you find something?" was never an appropriate part of this conversation, but there's usually something…..
"Would you mind helping me out here?" he finally said.
"Sure," I answered. "What do you need?"
"Could you help me put on my hat and gloves? I need to start heading home, before it gets dark."
I went out from behind the desk. His hat was lying on his lap, with his mittens. I picked it up, stretched it over his head, and asked if it felt all right.
"Yes, that's great," he said.
I put the first thick mitten on his right hand. "Is that ok?" I asked.
"Great," he said. "Would you mind strapping my other arm down a little tighter before you put the other one on?"
I looked at the chair. Sure enough, there were Velcro straps holding his arms down. I unstrapped it, sccrrrrrrrrritch, straightened his arm along the armrest, and strapped it back down, then pulled his other mitten over it.
"That's great, " he said. " I don't want it to come loose while I'm going home." He turned to Creative Librarian. "Could you write down my phone number?" he asked. "I'd like you to call and tell them I'm on my way. It will take me about an hour."
She wrote it down, and he motored toward the door. We looked at each other as she dialed.
"Hello? This is the downtown library calling. Monty wanted me to call and tell you he was on his way home. He said it would take about an hour. No, I don't think it's too cold out right now. Yes, he had his hat and mittens on. No, I don't believe the buses are running today. He does? Well, the sidewalks down here are clear and dry - I don't think it will be slippery for him at all. All right….you're welcome. Good bye."
She said, "They said he does this quite often, and thanked me for letting them know."
We were speechless for a moment, then I said, "We should have thanked him. "
"I know," she said. "Bless his heart."
Such a small thing, hat and mittens, calling home to let them know. But he shared his trust with us, and we were the ones honored by the gift.
Public service that doesn't burn you out, but shares the light. Thanks, Monty.