I was at the desk when a middle-aged woman with a southern accent walked slowly up. “Excuse me. I need to get on a computer, can you help me?”
“Sure. Do you have a library card here? That’s what we use for computer access.”
She hesitated and laid down her thick folder of papers. “Well, I’m from out of town, but I own property here. Can I get a library card?”
I explained that she could go either way. If she had her property tax bill, she could get a regular library card, but if she had an out of town ID, she could have a computer pass.
“I have the tax bill with me, but I’m not sure I have the time today. Can I do it next time I come in?” she asked.
“Of course!” I said. “Whatever works best for you.”
“Thank you so much. Here’s my ID."
“Great!” I said. I made her a card and registered it. “Here’s your card, it’s good for a month,” and I explained to her how to use it.
She smiled and thanked me, then stood still, just looking at me.
“I so appreciate you helping me,” she finally said. “You have been so kind, explaining all this to me, and giving me your time.” She stopped. “You didn’t ask, but I’ll tell you, I don’t know why. Did you hear about the graduate student who was killed recently?”
I nodded my head.
“I’m her mother."
Oh. Oh, dear.
"I’m here to....close up the house, and take care of things.”
I put my hand on her arm. “Oh, ma’m, I’m so sorry."
She nodded her head, and her eyes filled with tears. “That’s why I appreciate your help so much. This is a....hard time.”
I squeezed her arm, but didn’t say anything, as my own eyes were full by this time. She smiled sadly, gathered her papers, and turned toward the computers.
The point of the story is this: I did nothing for that woman that I haven’t done for hundreds of other people this year. I have given the same explanation, spent the same amount of time, used the same tone of voice, given them all the same access to the computers. But to this woman, me just doing my job was a grace.
You can do it, too, no matter what your job is. Do it so that it is a grace, if only to yourself. Just be aware, realize: no matter how many hundreds of times, you do not know what THIS time could mean to someone else.