Search This Blog

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Tuesday Thoughts--At the Lowest Point

I was a voice in the dark, a life line. Well aware of my responsibility, I tried to slow my speech, get the customer to relax or laugh. I succeeded with both--a small victory.

"Don't 'Sir' me, call me Mike."
I almost said, "Yes, sir," out of habit. I told him so and got his first rusty laugh.

I work tech support for a call center and his replacement phone was acting up. He couldn't use the phone to access the internet on his computer or even as a phone to call out, it would only allow him to call the service provider. I was the operator he got this round. It was taking incoming calls to voice mail, which he couldn't access and he'd spent three hours in the store that afternoon without success.

He had driven from Alaska to Arizona, sleeping under the stars in his small camper. Mike was staying at a campground on a reservation, hoping to reconnect with a cousin who may or may not have time for an old man.
He mentioned his campground neighbors with their million dollar RVs, half joking that he probably scared them. I asked if they hid their valuables when he walked by and claimed another victory when he chuckled. Mike went briefly into his troubles, not complaining, just explaining. As a Vietnam vet, he suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. He used phrases like, "totaled out by the military" and "my head ran away," gold to this writer whose hero is a medically retired Marine who had served in Afghanistan. I scribbled them down on the notepad as we talked and have the paper folded in one of my notebooks.

I shared that my much older brother graduated from The Naval Academy in the late 1960s and was probably a contemporary. He had been killed in service, was buried in Arlington and his daughter was born exactly nine months to the day of his death. For my brother, I thanked Mike for his service to his country and I think he may have shed a tear or two. I know I did.

But, I had to get him to the proper department to fix his issue. I had served my purpose, as a little comic relief in the dark night. I made sure the associate I transferred Mike to was aware of how special this call was and thanked Mike for the pleasure of speaking with him, wishing him well.

One of the absolute hardest things about my life and my job is that I can't "fix" everything. I make mistakes, some things need replacing, some people are flawed and sh@t happens. All you can do some days is try to learn the lesson that is presented, try to help make the situation as painless as possible.

One of my lowest points gave me the lesson that Fate and Faith puts us where we need to be, when we need to be there. I was horribly sick, but had to travel for work. In a hotel in Indianapolis, I was able to have my doctor call some prescriptions in to a pharmacy. I'd wasted quite a bit of time and sanity at the wrong store and when I figured out my error, I drug myself back into the car to finally pick up the badly needed meds. I got stopped by a train. After a few minutes of grumbling, I tried to think of all the things I was grateful for, trying for a few could be worse moments to give myself strength to survive the next few days, hours, minutes.

I thought of my dad, who worked as a conductor for the New York Central Railroad freight line. He was always on the road, staying in crappy hotels, sleeping in dirty cabooses (when there was such a thing) and being away from family and friends no matter how horrible he felt. It was March 28th, the day before his birthday. He passed in November a few years before and I felt ashamed that I was feeling so sorry for myself when I had it so much better than he had. Just then, I looked up. The next to last and third from the last train cars were from his old line and looked like this:

As I have my hero say in the book I finished Sunday morning (why we didn't have Sunday Sundries this week, sorry), you feel the lows, but that allows you to feel the highs.

So, with the Universal Truth that life is not perfect ringing in my ear, I take those lows and put them into my fiction. Like a cruel, evil master, I put my characters into difficult situations, then throw a boxcar-load of monkey wrenches their way and see if and how they dodge. If you truly know them and have built them well, they will come out the other side stronger, with a sense of humor and purpose intact. Your reader will thank you for it.