An Essay – Self-Help From a Stranger

I work for a bank, taking incoming calls about credit cards. My goal is to impart information and wisdom.

I sigh to myself sometimes… like when I ask for a credit card number and the customer says, “Oh, I didn’t think I’d need that. Hold on… I’m driving…”


“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” when I falter for a moment finding an answer.

I also remind myself… BE KIND BE KIND BE KIND.

Sometimes, in truth, it would be so much easier (and satisfying) to get snippy.

Yesterday, I had a call that at first made me shake my head.

It was one of those that made me want to get snippy.

By the time it was finished, I was reminded of a VALUABLE truth.

It started like this: A woman calls and asks if I can find a purchase she made sometime last year. It is for a television that’s stopped working and she can’t find the receipt. I asked for a date or amount. She knows neither.

Ugh, I think. Instead, I quipped, “Well, you’re going to have to do better than that,” laughing a little. But not, if you know what I mean.

She said, “I don’t remember. I’m sorry, I’m very upset.”

I can feel the edge of something deeply troubling – painful – emanating through the telephone. I take note… and the desire to be snippy fades away.

“Okay, well let me take a look…” I say as I pulled up the last six months of statements. I comb through them… no TV anywhere.

“Are you sure you can’t remember the month, what was going on around the purchase? Maybe that would help you remember?”

“It was probably more than six months ago, actually. My husband was going into long-term care and the TV was for his room. It was April, I think. The television stopped working the other day.”

“Oh,” I say, as I notice the opening date of her account… October. I share that with her.

“Oh no,” she says, her voice softening. “I guess I got it before I even had this credit card. Now, how will I find it? I’m so sorry I bothered you.”

“Please don’t worry,” I said. “It was no trouble.”

“I’m sorry I didn’t have the information you needed.”

“Honestly,” I say, “It’s okay.”

And then…

“Besides,” I say, “I remember how it was for my mom when dad was living in a hospital. I know how hard it must be for you…”

The dam broke.

She burst out crying. Not little sniffles but huge, air-gasping sobs.

“I’m so sorry,” I said, with a catch in my voice. I had to take a deep breath and remain professional.

“Thank you,” she said.

I had so much more to say but found silence was all I could muster without getting emotional myself.

As we hung up, I had the very clear feeling that I MUST REMEMBER … always… we never know what ANYONE is going through.

I promise you… this is not some re-frame moment where I say that the guy without his credit card number, driving, is headed to the emergency room to tend to his sick child.

But he could have been.

That’s *part of* the point.

More to the point: Of COURSE this customer didn’t have everything together in an orderly fashion! She was just trying to live moment-by-moment in a way that only those who have gone through what she’s going through might understand.

I hope she finds the receipt and is able to replace the TV… for her husband… and for her own piece (or should it be peace?) of mind.

Life is hard enough these days… and for her… right now… harder than most. <<< And that’s the actual bottom line.

This call broke my heart… and reminded me that the vast majority of us are just clunky humans doing the best we can while we get through day-to-day.

While self-help has the word “self” in it… it’s really about so much more! That’s why these learning moments are so important!

Getting emotionally (mentally and physically) healthy helps you to function in the world and maintain relationships… to be a part of our (human) community.

This customer needed someone to acknowledge her. Hear her. Listen.

So basic… so important.

This is why I share stories like this… truths like this. I hope we can all take it to heart.


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