I encountered a small problem at work recently that left me stumped. The nutshell version is that I needed an accurate map of our town, showing town borders, property lines, street names, and address numbers, and only those things. Without this map, a massive project that I’ve been working on for months could end up unraveling at a pivotal point.
Given that I work in town administration, you might think that obtaining such a map would be fairly easy. But, no. This is a very small town with very limited resources and we had no such map. We had other maps, lots and lots of other maps, but not a map like this. I was beginning to quietly panic. I had to have this map, and I had to have it by next Tuesday.
And then I was reminded that when we are kind to people, it usually comes back to us tenfold.
A colleague of mine, whom I’ll call “Todd,” arrived in the office a bit ago, with a big smile on his face. “Hey, T,” he called out, “I have something for you!” Now, there are only 7 of us working here (ten, actually, if you include my colleague’s adorable 3-month-old baby boy who comes to work with her every day and the 2 dogs that serve as “canine ambassadors” to members of the community who stop by). Most of us crowded into the break room to see what had our normally recalcitrant Todd sounding so buoyant.
With a flourish, Todd handed me a large, rolled up paper. I looked at him, with his shit-eating grin on his face, and frantically opened the bundle as if I were about to discover the Superstar Barbie I’d begged for at age 8. And there it was. In all it’s glory.
My simple, perfect map.
Me: “How….? Where…..?”
Todd: “Will and I sat down yesterday and played with the software and figured it out. I knew you needed it. It took us a couple of hours, and it’s not been fully-proofed, but I feel pretty sure it’ll be accurate. I went to Kinko’s this morning and got it enlarged for you.”
I honestly did not know what to say. Todd is currently cramming to get things done so he can take off for a much-deserved vacation. He absolutely did not have the time to do this for me. And Will isn’t even employed by the town anymore. I’d noticed that he was in the office yesterday, but hadn’t thought anything of it. After thanking Todd profusely, I had to retreat to my office because I honestly thought I might cry.
Right now I am shouldering more stress and fear and moments of panic than I have in almost 20 years. There are financial pressures that are weighing heavily on me, employment concerns that come with the territory when you work in a political job, and middle school looming for my overly-sensitive eldest daughter. Add to that an ex-boyfriend who has showed up with no apparent intention other than to wreak further emotional havoc on my life, and you can probably understand that I’m feeling pretty lost and lonely and overwhelmed and unsupported right now. It happens. It’s life. But it still sucks.
But it is also in those moments when we most realize our value to the people around us, the ways that we are connected and care for and about each other. I drove to work this morning, reminding myself that I have friends I can turn to. Annie will listen to me cry. K.C. will give me or loan me any money I’d ever need. Katrina will keep me company so I’m not lonely and panicked. I don’t have to shoulder everything alone, always. I don’t have to be a strong, together, poised woman every. single. minute. I am allowed to be weak, and scared, and uncertain sometimes. We all are. None of us are superheroes. Sometimes we have to ask for help, for friendship, for support.
I hadn’t asked Todd for his help, but he gave it anyway, and I know why. Back in January, at a drunken going-away party for another colleague, Todd confided in me that he is in love with a woman 2,000 miles away and he is, frankly, heartsick over her. Since then, I have listened when I didn’t have the time, and inquired how he’s doing when I could tell he needed to talk, and encouraged and supported their tentative steps to creating a relationship against the odds. They are small things, to be sure, but when you’re in that space, is there anything better than knowing that someone cares, just a little bit?
That’s why he made me my map, I am sure of it. To let me know that he appreciates me, too.
Sometimes a small, random act of kindness like that serves as a release valve for the pressure you’re feeling. Locked in the crucible of a stressful situation, it’s easy to feel that something has to give — and fast — or you’re going to quietly explode. But then a friend comes along and offers a hug or a favor or a word of encouragement and it’s just enough to release some of that force that’s pressing in on you. And life goes on. And somehow we muddle through.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go give Todd a big hug before he leaves on his vacation.