Many times over the years I have angrily shouted at God, “Why me?” and, just as it did last night, the answer always comes from a most unlikely source at a completely unexpected time.
At work, I am the supervisor of approximately 15 associates. Relative peace reigns most of the time, but occasionally an associate comes along that puts me to the test both personally and professionally. About three months ago, a college student whom I’ll call M. began working in my department, and from the start I had a sense that he would test me or push me to the limit in some way. My instinct was not wrong.
A month into M.’s time at the store, I was called into the Store Manager’s office. M. had made allegations that I was targeting him and that he was being discriminated against because of his religious beliefs. I was shocked and not shocked at the same time, because several days prior when I had asked him into the office for a discussion, he had bluntly asked me if I wanted him gone and told me that another associate (a known drama causer) had placed this idea in his head.
Fortunately, I have worked with my Store Manager for 5 years. She knows that I care about my associates and would not purposely single out one and torture him. Still, she did share with me that I should work on tailoring my approach to individual associates’ personalities and needs. I took her advice to heart and promised to be more careful of my interactions in the future. Because M. felt uncomfortable with the idea of a mediated discussion with the two of us present, the Store Manager asked me to give her in writing my responses to his allegations so that she could present them to him in an effort to resolve the situation. Following her second discussion with M., she gave no report to me leading me to conclude that all was settled, but I was cautious and sensitive to his concerns when speaking to him after that.
A month passed, and one day M. failed to show up for work without calling to inform us. I called his cell phone but was immediately transferred to voice mail. A few days later, I received an e-mail that he had applied for leave due to a serious illness, and the Store Manager informed me he was in the hospital.
When M. returned to work after about a week, he was pale and shaky. I expressed concern and asked how he was feeling. I sympathized with him that it must have been difficult being so ill and with no family around. M.’s home is a state away. He is in town to attend the University. Respecting his privacy, I did not ask M. why he had been in the hospital and he did not offer that information…until the following night.
As I was passing by inspecting the floor that night at clean-up time, I asked M. to make sure the lower shelves of the tables were recovered. He immediately doubled over appearing to be in pain, reminded me that he had just been in the hospital, and told me that he could not bend. Feeling like an idiot, I quickly apologized and asked the other associate to get the bottoms. M. then busted out in peels of laughter and said, “Gotcha!” He could bend, and he would get the bottom shelves. Relieved, I laughingly scolded him and went about my business.
Later that night, when I approached the area where M. was working, he asked me if I would like to know why he had been in the hospital. I responded that I hadn’t asked because it was his private business, but that he could tell me if he wanted to. Wide-eyed, I listened as he shared that he had gone to the Emergency Room because his anxiety had gotten out of control–he told me he suffers from depression and anxiety–and they had transferred him to a mental facility where he had been basically locked up and unable to call anyone. I almost cried for him right there. How frightening, and such an unwarranted abuse of control over someone who was in a fragile state. We talked some more, and I shared with him that I was well acquainted with mental health issues–myself and several members of my family. We said we’d have lunch sometime and share horror stories.
That evening, I could not let go and stop thinking about this young man’s plight. I determined to let him know that I would be there for him if he ever needed help again so that he would not be forced to turn to a system that has no understanding of mental illness and only fears it. The next day at work, as I dug through my purse for one of my business cards to give to M., I silently thanked God that because of my suffering I am able to understand and help others who are hurting. I told M. to use my number any time of the day or night, and he in great appreciation responded that I could not possibly know how much it meant to him. He said, “I have no one here.”