Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.
As much as I strive to show kindness to others every single day, I am a fallible human and sometimes my thoughts get in the way.
Sometimes I react in ways that I later wish I hadn’t. I have to take those moments as the lessons that they are and learn from them.
This is the story of one such lesson.
I have been a Meals on Wheels road warrior for over a year now. I knew I needed to serve, I searched local volunteer opportunities, and how I would do that was shown to me in the form of a friend’s Facebook post about having her young sons help with meal deliveries.
That’s it. That’s what I need to do.
I attended orientation and off I went. While the recommendation was every other week, I asked for weekly, which is how I came to do this every Thursday.
I’ve certainly met some characters along the way. My very first day delivering to local housing complex, I was confused by the map (I’m actually very good with maps, but this one had a strange layout) and I wandered aimlessly in the summer heat between buildings, trying to find the address on my route sheet.
An elderly man watched patiently from porch. He watched me lugging the totes of food with no freaking idea what I was doing, for a solid 10 minutes. He laughed when I finally approached him.
“I was wondering how long you were going to walk around in circles!”
“You’ve been watching me this whole time and said nothing?” I laughed too. I must have been his late morning entertainment.
Over time, I came to learn that he is a Chiefs fan while I am a Steelers fan, and so we talked football every time we met for those brief minutes. The smack talk was real when our teams were facing one another.
It was all fun until the city leveled that aging housing complex to build anew and I have no idea where he was relocated. I just know he is no longer on my route.
But Sophia has been my constant. In fact, she is the only client that I started with 15 months ago that I still have. She is always my first stop. Even when the route changed completely and she was moved to last on the list, I still stop there first.
I do this because I know that she knows the schedule. She moves very slowly and with the assistance of a walker. I know that a majority of the time she is standing by the door at 11:00 a.m. because she doesn’t want to inconvenience the person delivering. I know this because she is always apologetic on those times that I wait patiently for her to reach the door.
There are notes on the route sheet too as deemed necessary. Notes like:
“Client is slow to the door.”
“Client is wheelchair bound.”
“Client does not want apples.”
“Client is blind.”
The first applies to Sophia and I know this. I have memorized her habits.
That’s why one day when she didn’t answer after I had waited several minutes, both ringing and knocking loudly, I returned to my car with the food, followed procedure and dialed the emergency number listed on the route sheet.
Before the call was answered, Sophia appeared at her door and I hung up. I delivered her meal. She smiled her big smile, I finished my route and went about my day.
I was in an office supply store when the woman called. She took about three seconds to introduce herself as Sophia’s niece, the emergency contact. She was enraged. She started yelling at me immediately.
“I need you to understand that I left work to drive from the next town over to check on my aunt! You couldn’t have left a message??” Diane was practically screaming.
She gave it to me with all of the anger and frustration that she had. I didn’t even know where it was coming from. Quite honestly, I was stunned and was regretting having answered the call from an unknown number. I generally don’t even do that, but I think I subconsciously recognized the number I had dialed earlier.
“She came to the door right as the phone was ringing, so I just hung up and I’m sorry,” I said.
That wasn’t good enough. No. She had left work. She let me know that about six more times without much of a breath between.
She was relentless. I immediately bristled and went into defense mode. My mind was racing and wondering how she even knew it was a meal delivery driver she was calling back since we hadn’t even connected on the call I’d made.
I determined that perhaps it was from an earlier message I had left weeks before. Following protocol, I left the initial voicemail that the door hadn’t been answered and that I would try again at the end of the route. I did what I said I would do and Sophia was at the door when I came back around, apologizing for having been in the bathroom earlier. I had called the number back and relayed that all was well.
Because we aren’t just delivering meals. For many of these clients, it is also a daily wellness check. Yes…to confirm they are still alive.
“Why can’t you people just give the woman time to get to the door before you call and bother me? You KNOW she’s slow. She has a bad hip because of her stroke.” Diane continued to yell at me as my mind continued to sprint toward coming to the conclusion that what I had done wrong was to call her in the first place.
“I swear. Every damn day. I can’t take it.” She kept going on and on and ON.
I kept saying sorry over and over until I realized I didn’t even mean it. I even heard the sarcasm in my voice. “I’m SO SORRY that I called to let you know she wasn’t answering. Be assured, it won’t happen again.”
“What? No, I want you to call me!” Diane protested.
“Well, clearly you do not. So I’ll ensure it never happens again,” I responded. At this point, I was angry myself. Okay, I shouldn’t have hung up before we connected, but I was quite certain that I didn’t deserve this. That’s what my brain was telling me. Fuck this noise.
You know that place? Have you have you ever been there? Where you have someone yelling their head off at you, you’re not even sure why, and all you want is to make it go away? You’ll pretty much say anything to make it stop?
I didn’t really mean I would never tend to Sophia’s needs to relay to her loved one that she wasn’t answering the door.
But in the moment, it was all about self preservation this woman was pissing me off.
I didn’t hang up on her. I let her rant and rage and tell me how every single one of us drivers were inept, couldn’t follow basic instructions, on and on and on.
And I let it mean that I did something wrong.
So I went back to sorry, sorry, sorry. I’m just so sorry. At that point, I was still trying to deflect her anger without truly knowing the turn it was about to take.
Diane started to soften…just a little. Not a lot. But she explained herself.
“I need you to understand,” she said in a tone more determined to get her point across than to admonish me for not staying on the line until she answered and for wasting her time.
She went on to describe what happened the day that her aunt had her stroke – in detail.
“She wouldn’t answer and the police ended up having to kick in her door to find her on the floor. She couldn’t move. She couldn’t get up. She couldn’t call for help. That’s when she broke her hip.”
I envisioned this event in my mind. And it suddenly hit me like a ton of bricks. I started to cry.
Not for me or the unexpected drama I was suddenly experiencing in the middle of the local office supply store in the middle of a day that I had thought was going to be perfectly ordinary.
Diane took it that way and she softened more.
“Oh no, don’t cry,” she said.
And part of me wanted to just giggle at the fact that suddenly she was telling me how sorry that she was for having yelled at me. Ha!
What was really happening at that moment for me was a total mental and emotional shift that came with the clear understanding of what was truly occurring within this woman who had been coming at me in the form of anger and frustration that had been building for who knows how long.
I saw her.
I heard it in her voice.
She wasn’t angry.
She was terrified.
When she told me that was her only surviving aunt, her mother’s sister, who is 87, who had suffered a stroke, who now has a bad hip, who can’t move that well and Diane just can’t up and leave work like this, worried she might find her dear aunt laying on the floor again, and the graphic detail – the memories of men kicking in the door to find her were flooding her own mind. No wonder she was raging.
“So what do I find when I rush over to her house?! She’s sitting there eating her lunch like nothing is wrong.”
Diane was in fear. Complete and utter fear.
Every fucking time the phone rang around that time of day meant it could be a meal delivery driver that wasn’t getting a response from her dear aunt.
And losing her would hurt so bad.
I came to the rapid understanding that she was bracing for that day but she wasn’t quite ready for it.
Who ever is?
“She’s all I have left and she’s everything to me,” she said.
“I know,” I replied through my tears.
They weren’t the tears that Diane thought they were. They weren’t anything about me. Or her yelling. If anything, the yelling simply annoyed me. The tears were from my realization that I had a full understanding of the fear she was truly feeling. For me, it was empathy and compassion. And it was crushing me. In the middle of a back aisle of Office fucking Depot.
Thankfully, not too busy on a typical Thursday.
And then something amazing happened.
Diane ended up trying to comfort me. It was so strange, yet felt so natural.
“I know what it’s like to lose someone and I understand where you’re coming from,” I said. “I think I know what you’re feeling right now and I’m sorry that you’re feeling it. I am sorry that I played a part in it.”
And that, I meant. I wasn’t trying to defend or deflect. But I did need her to know that I understood.
Over the course of the next 15 minutes, Diane had decided that only I should deliver meals to her dearest aunt because all of the other drivers were incompetent! She said I was the only one who understood.
I did chuckle and tell her that it was probably not a possibility, but I would happily do so. I followed through with the ask by sending an email from my phone before I even got home. The administration office thought it was crazy. No, they didn’t go for it.
Which is perfectly fine, though I truly would have done it. I would have ventured out every day just for Sophia because I can tell there is something special about her.
She can’t hear very well, so our conversations are short and sweet.
She always graciously accepts the apples, even though it’s clear she has no teeth.
Sometimes she apologizes for keeping me waiting and I always assure her it’s never a problem.
She is always smiling.
And I can see why she is loved so dearly by her nieces and nephews.
Her nephew appears now and then doing handy work around her home. I don’t know his name because he’s never yelled at me and we haven’t gone through that emotional trial.
He was there this past week and came around the corner to see if she was answering.
“She’s on her way,” I said. “I heard her say so.”
“Well, she’s usually right there waiting for her food,” he said. Just as he always does. He likes to give her a hard time about it.
“Yes, she is,” I replied.
“Did you get your food? You happy now?” he asked Sophia loudly when she came to the door.
She smiled and nodded.
“Thank you for all that you do for her,” he said to me.
I’m not even sure what he meant by that but I responded, “my pleasure.” Because it is. It is always my pleasure. I’ve learned so much from this family. They’ve taught me a lot about myself over the past year. Things I will never forget.
Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.
Especially the ones who are yelling at you. In fact, look to them for the greatest lessons.
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