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Wednesday, February 8, 2017

How important is it?

Today’s lesson for me took some dissection of the whole day and a lot of time spent with me asking “why did this happen?”   When leaving Grace Park after another very successful Snow Angels mission, I had to look at a situation that happened a number of times to see what was the driving force behind things.   
So many of the people that I come in contact when on these missions are amazingly gracious.    As I talk with other volunteers, I always hear stories of people coming up to stations and saying “ok, thank you.   I already have enough of those.”     It’s always seemed strange to me.   I think that this is partially because I’m not sure how I would react in the same situation.   What would I do?
When working the request truck, the difference typically goes the opposite direction than with the other stations.   There have been a few instances where we were not able to get all of the requested items for an individual.   Sometimes we can’t find a requested item as it may be an odd size.   Towards the end of the season, many of the stores are out of the larger sizes of coats.      
For the mission 2 weeks ago, we were supposed to have boots for a gentleman by the name of Kevin.   To me, it was strange that we didn’t have them.   I remember talking to Kevin about the boots.   I knew his name even.   Yet, his boots weren’t in the truck.   In fact, his name didn’t even appear on the list.   Did I accidentally delete him?   Did I forget to enter it?   Either way, none of that mattered at the time.   Kevin didn’t get the boots he very much needed and was quite upset about it.
As we talked, Kevin mentioned how he doesn’t stay close to downtown and getting to Grace Park isn’t easy for him.  He talked about how he has to stand and walk a lot and how he needs something so his feet don’t hurt constantly.   He was upset.   His frustration was very apparent.   As I listened to him say all of this, I tried to take it all in and just listen.  I wanted to make sure that he knew I was actually listening to what he was saying and not just brushing him off.   I wanted to make sure that he felt that I was going to do something to make sure that this didn’t happen again to him.   
In listening to him, I started to realize how many different things could contribute to why he was so frustrated.   For many, including myself, there seems to be a feeling of “you’re lucky to have us here at all”.   We all start to think, “Why are you mad at us? We’re out here helping you.   Why are you so ungrateful?”    Then I realize, it’s not the items that we did or didn’t bring, it’s how we made the people feel that was the difference.  
When Kevin mentioned it was difficult for him to get to Grace Park, it took me a minute to figure out why.   He stays in the Fairlawn area.   For most of us, a 12-15 minute drive in a car.   We hop in at our convenience and just go.   For him, it’s an estimated 29 minute bus ride...if he can afford a bus pass.   So he either walked for close to 2 hours, or spent valuable bus tokens on getting here for nothing.   Then had to do the same to get back.   For most of us, a 30 minute round trip for nothing would make us feel like we wasted our time.   For him, it could have been 4+ hours of walking…in leaky boots.   It was probably wasted resources that are extremely scarce to begin with.   
I started to realize the emotional component that could be behind all of this also.   These new boots could have been the highlight of the week, month, or maybe even the year.   For all I know, I’ve done the equivalent of climbing down some kids chimney at Christmas, ate the cookies, and left a note saying “better luck next year kid”.    In a world that doesn’t always have many outside influences that bring brightness, I may have been that bright spot.  As I left, all I could think of was that he was looking forward to these, and I let him down.
On the previous mission when I talked to Kevin, I felt awful.  I made no excuses.   I could honestly say I didn’t know why we didn’t have the boots.   I left the mission angry with myself.   
Through the week, I checked and re-checked the sheet to make sure that Kevin’s items were on the list.   I made sure that they got ordered.   When I arrived for the mission on Sunday, I dove into the box of requests just to make sure that they were there.   I did not want to feel that way twice.   
We arrived at Grace Park on Sunday and within a few minutes, I saw Kevin.   He had a look on his face that just seemed to scream “skeptical”.   It felt so good to assure him that the boots were in the truck and ready for him.   
We actually had two pairs of boots for Kevin.   One was a set of waterproof work boots, and the other was a rubber boot.   My mind was totally blown when Kevin came up to me after receiving the boots and said “Thanks for getting these!   These work boots are super nice! I love them!   They’ll work great!  The rubber ones, I probably can’t use though.   Can you get them to someone that might be able to?”    
I was a bit stunned.    Here, we totally failed for this man 2 weeks earlier, and now all he wants to do is make sure that someone else gets the boots that he may not get as much use out of.   He could have easily kept the other boots and maybe even sold them for a few dollars.   Instead, he just wanted to make sure that they went to someone that needed them more than him.   Once again....think long and hard about how you would react in that situation.
The things I learned this week were hard on me because in a way, they came at someone else’s expense.   
  1. What you consider a slight inconvenience, could be something extremely difficult for someone else.
  2. Your word, no matter what the situation is binding.
  3. There’s no better feeling than coming through for someone. The opposite is also true. There’s no worse feeling than failing someone.

I started my week with a sense of being highly aware of those around me.   Treat every interaction as it’s the most important one.   For those you’re interacting with, it just might be.   

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