Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Patience Please

Patience: an ability or willingness to suppress restlessness or annoyance when confronted with delay.

I rush into the Walmart Supercenter. It’s noisy and crowded, and I hate being here. I’ve allowed 11 and a half minutes for this transaction at the cell phone center just inside the north doors.
I don’t notice Jenny at first, although she’s the only sales clerk in the center. I think she’s sitting, but realize that shes actually standing, holding a phone to her left ear. She’s barely 5 feet tall, probably about 25. She wears no makeup, and her short, frizzled brownish-red hair looks like it got about 30 seconds of her time this morning. She’s wearing no-name jeans, worn white tennis shoes and the Walmart blue vest. In a roomful, Jenny is one of the invisible people.
I fidget, waiting for her to get off the phone. “I need to make changes to my account, and I’m kind of in a hurry,” I tell her. She smiles and lifts her right hand to acknowledge me. As soon as she ends the call, I offer an overall excellent 30-second summary – including bullet points – of my situation.

Most people will only wait about eight seconds for a web page to load.

She listens, then smiles again. “I’m new to this department, so I’m still learning about everything.” I glance around. This is when I usually ask for a supervisor. But there’s no one else anywhere close.
“I’ve been with the company for five years, and they’ve made me a manager over here,” she continues proudly.

If you commute, you will be stuck in traffic for about 38 hours in 2015. The average is about 90 hours if you live in Los Angeles, Washington D.C. or Houston.

Looking into her brown eyes is like making eye contact with a stray dog in the front yard.
“That’s great,” I say flatly. I glance at my phone. Nine minutes left. Another employee has come in, but she’s already helping someone else.
Jenny pulls out the keyboard for the clunky desktop computer and starts the search for my account. “How do you spell your last name?”
Sigh. “The regular way.”
She taps slowly on the keyboard, then leans back in the office chair. Her feet dangle as she watches the screen. “It’s really slow today,” she says, looking up at me.

In 2015, you will spend about 13 hours of your life on hold. I’m pretty sure I will use all my hours listening to ABBA and other what-was-once-cool music while waiting for a Cox Communications representative to pick up the phone.

Jenny is so new to the job that the teacher in me takes over. I explain differences between browsers, type in information, look up contact numbers, adjust her chair, complete her section of the paperwork. Even though the instructions for the transaction are on the screen in front of her, Jenny consults her (very patient) co-worker every two minutes. “I just want to be sure that I’m doing it right,” she says.
After 43 minutes, I sink into the black plastic chair. Jenny is in the middle of an online chat with Justin at Verizon. She pecks out “thank you” and responds “welcome” – pausing to correct the typos – each time Justin answers a question about my account. She ends their discussion with a cheery “Hope you have a great day!!!” “Thanks,” he types. “Welcome!!!” Jenny responds.

You will spend about three days waiting in line in 2015. Take a tent and a good book if you go to the Department of Motor Vehicles or the Social Security office.

The contract papers print at the 58-minute mark. I grab them and turn toward the pet supplies department. I look over my shoulder and say the most polite response I have for someone who was of no use to me. “I appreciate your help.”
“If you bring back your groceries, I can check you out over here,” Jenny says.
Her offer rolls over me, but after I buzz through the self-check line, I walk by the cell phone center. She’s still sitting at the computer. I slow down and make eye contact.

It only takes a moment.

“Thank you, Jenny,” I say.
She looks up. “Have a good day, sweetie!”

“But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.” 1 Timothy 1:16 (NIV)

Monday, September 22, 2014

Half Full

Today’s wifi password is vagabond, lowercase letters handwritten in purple ink on a torn piece of notebook paper taped to the coffee bar.
The barista is 25 or 26, and the tattoos that cover her shoulders, legs and most of her back are visible through the thin straps of her short white tank, cut-off denim shorts and long, stained brown apron. She’s wearing dangling silver earrings, her dark hair pulled up in a messy bun. The drink orders – white mocha, Americano, China green tea – are as unique as the customers.
“Bye Rita,” she says to a woman with frizzy gray hair. “See you tomorrow.” Rita offers a back-handed wave, walks across the black-and-white checkered tile floor and pushes on the glass-paneled front door.
A young person – 30 pounds overweight – orange and yellow tattoos from elbows to wrists, sits alone on one of the four soda fountain bar stools. He (she?) has a mohawk the color of a cherry snow cone and is sipping raspberry iced tea.
The guy sleeping on the yellow couch near the door is wearing the same clothes as last Friday. The shirt swallows him, and the hairs on his head and face are entangled in a dirty web.
A tall, slim dark-haired man in a gray suit slumps in a chair near a window, but he doesn’t have time to look outside. He’s staring at a Dell laptop screen and is the only one wearing earbuds today.
The low music is stuck in the early 1970s, and a few conversations drift lazily above the tables.

A person, usually without a permanent home, who wanders from place to place.
What is most striking about this place is that nothing matches.  Every chair has been discarded from somewhere – the brown, armless from a kitchen, the high-backed fabric from a formal dining room, the small tan hard-backed from an elementary classroom, the green wheeled one from an office.
In one room, four formica tables have been shoved together and are lit by a combination of naked bulbs, a string of modern track lighting and an orange and yellow cone-shaped lamp hanging from the ceiling. The walls – depending on which direction you look – are green, red, yellow, white or orange and covered in outdated fliers, paintings of various sizes and intricate pencil drawings. Except for the area around the bar, the floors are two different kinds of worn wood.
I’m a semi-regular here, but I don’t have an assigned seat and this barista doesn’t know my order. Sometimes I stand at the bar and talk to other customers. Sometimes I stay really close to the door. But today, my back is against the wall. I’m sitting in a mustard yellow diner booth trying to avoid sticking to the duct tape that covers the cracks.

… having an uncertain or irregular course or direction.

Life would be so much simpler if everything matched, lined up, met expectations, worked out according to plan. But people grow up, leave, make mistakes, move, break up, fail, drop out, hit bottom, win the lottery, give up, change their minds, drift apart, die. We don’t get the opportunity to – as someone recently suggested to me – press Command/Z (Edit/Undo) on the keyboard.
I’ve never slept on a couch in a public place. I’m not a Suit. The only thing hippie about me is my hair. But I have many things in common with the other people here. And I’ve still got a little coffee left in my mug.

“For this world is not our permanent home; we are looking forward to a home yet to come.” Hebrews 13:14 (NLT)

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Letting Go

“Youre not going to get all emotional again, are you?” my 14-year-old daughter asked, not looking up from her computer. She wasn’t annoyed, just resigned.
We were sitting side-by-side at one of our favorite coffee places. Words flying from her fingers, she was sipping a mocha while writing a composition about Animal Farm.
My laptop open, I sunk back in the wooden booth and stared at the pictures that blurred my sons life from 1995 to 2014. Im compiling a book – photos, journal notes and birthday letters – for his high school graduation gift.
I find myself blurting out, somewhat awkwardly and always randomly, “my son is graduating” everywhere I go – during a class, in line at the grocery store, at an academic conference, in a coffee place. As if Im the only one. As if theres been a great disturbance in the Force.
One sister, one sister-in-law and several friends gave birth to sons within a few weeks of my son. So, the pressure – real or perceived – was there. When Nick didnt hit some of the developmental markers, I poured through the baby books. Hes 6 months old; why is he not sitting up by himself? All the other babies are walking at 12 months; he still moves like GI Joe – dragging himself across the floor. For his first three years, he talked liked a cave man. Momma. Moot (milk.).
Concerned about his motor skills development, I enrolled him in tumbling classes at Gymboree and The Little Gym. He didnt like somersaults and rolled across the mats like a tumbleweed. (Sort of the way I rolled down the hill behind the house where I grew up.) In the Mommy & Me swim classes, we were still working on the bubble-blowing thing on the last day of the session.
Meanwhile, at age 3, he was reciting the planets in order to his Sunday school teachers. Reading books under the covers. Playing games on a computer. Planting a garden with his Nana. Asking a lot of questions.
At the end of his second year in pre-school, Nick didnt draw the nose on a stick figure person – one of those developmental tests they give the kids. The teacher gently told me that he wasnt “ready” for kindergarten. Panicked, I sent him to pre-kindergarten and spent the next nine months researching homeschooling. I overloaded him with textbooks and worksheets for about four years. But he seemed to be learning almost everything by reading books we checked out from the library.
I signed him up for baseball with the Y. He was a strong hitter but spent most of his time in the outfield putting rocks in the deep pockets of his shorts. I dragged him to Chuck E Cheeses, the bowling alley, the ice skating rink, laser tag places, big buildings full of inflatables, the roller skating rink, the mini golf place, McDonalds. It took me five years to figure out that his future success at making friends didnt depend on exchanging birthday invitations with kids we didnt know. And how many people really need to know how to ice skate?
Meanwhile, at age 10, he was memorizing four or five Bible verses a week. Spending hours building “command centers” out of Legos and castles out of cardboard boxes. Running happily through science museums. Singing at a Billy Graham crusade. Learning the backstroke. 
We made plaster casts of animal tracks, fed raw meat to a lion, painted rocks, petted a sting ray, made bowls with a pottery wheel, sprayed a firefighters hose, tasted ice cream at a dairy farm, panned for gold, rode roller coasters, baked sugar cookies, milked cows, stuck our toes in the sand on both coasts, engaged in epic water gun battles, shared funnel cake. Visited the National Weather Center, the U.S. Bureau of Engraving & Printing, courthouses, state capitols, presidentsmuseums, a bee farm.
Meanwhile, at age 16, he was wielding a sabre. Volunteering as a tech at church. Singing with choirs and performing in plays. Visiting residents in nursing homes. Tying sophisticated knots. Cooking. Shaving. Working out. Camping. Whitewater rafting. Driving. Discussing politics and world economics.
Motherhood is demanding, painful, exhausting, heartbreaking, disappointing, exhilarating, all-consuming, nerve-racking, draining. It requires endurance, patience, creativity and a kind of unconditional love that can only come from God. Its full of uncertainty and imperfections. Triumphs and defeats. Your role starts in the huddle, then you move slowly to the sideline. Eventually, you have to go sit in the stands.
Meanwhile, at age 18, Nicks working, taking college classes and excitedly planning a future involving economics, history, finance, political science, international business. And I just realized that I have no idea where he is right now. Or whether hes eaten a green vegetable this week.
I drained my latté and smiled at my daughter. “No, not this time,” I said.

Photos by Shelby