I love working with the public. It isn’t always easy or pleasant, but it is generally rewarding. Putting on a smile and seeing that smile produce a positive reaction time and time again, bringing people of all ages out of their shells or reassuring them is pretty damn awesome. For me, it can help lift dark moments by forging a connection and reminding me that my actions and words have consequences.
Today had two moments where that connection was something of a mixed blessing. The first was an elderly lady who needed help with some photocopying. It was a busy morning, with queues already building up, but she was on crutches and had a thick sheaf of papers in her hand, so I pointed out a table and chair nearby and got on with it.
I try not to read what people print or copy at the library, but while making sure the paper was straight on the glass I couldn’t help notice certain words and phrases that suggested someone ill at ease with paperwork or authority. A story of someone in constant pain, reliant on her daughter, and bewildered by the bureaucracy required to get a disabled parking badge emerged from the pages. She didn’t give me enough money to finish the job, so I got the key and ran the copies off anyway, and then had to argue the toss with her to stop her emptying her purse to pay for the extra. We compromised on an amount, and away she went.
The second moment came later in the afternoon when a jovial gentleman checked I worked there before handing me his wife’s disabled parking badge to send off for secure disposal, as she had just died. That was where his voice cracked and the tears glistened, and he turned away, ashamed of letting the facade drop. There’s something about being so used to British stiff upper lip that made this even more shocking for coming out of nowhere. Beyond condolences and a quick touch on the arm there wasn’t much else I could do but promise I’d take care of it for him.
It has stayed with me, reminded me of the impact of my not being here on those left behind, and made me quite thoughtful. And that’s why, even in those moments, I love working with people.