I paused in my swimming to ask the newcomer to the pool how she was doing. We have swum at the same time many times before and have a loose, friendly, fellow-swimmer relationship. But that night, her face crumpled and she replied, “Not well. Not well at all.”
She’s articulate and has an unnervingly accurate memory, these things I know about her.
I asked her why, and the story spilled out. She’s been at the same job for seventeen years. She loves what she does, is good at what she does. Last year, she took some time off to take care of her mom who was ill, and ultimately ended up passing away. I remember that, she was heartbroken then, too. Last September, after she returned to work, she transferred to another department in her company or they transferred “him” to hers, I’m not real clear on that part, but whatever transfer happened, “he” is not a good boss. He makes it his goal to undermine and devalue the people under him, and picks on someone in particular until that person either quits or transfers out. If that person tries to talk to him to set things right, he yells at them until they leave his office in tears and humiliated, everyone looking on and watching. These are the things I gathered from what she told me. Right now, she’s his target and has been since last September.
I felt so bad for her and mostly just listened, until she said she didn’t know what to do, that she’s making herself sick over it, can’t sleep, and she started to cry. The song and dance I know all too well. And that’s when I offered her some small thoughts I had — people like that, you can’t talk to them, you have to have a third-party come in and mediate. Or leave. She doesn’t want to leave.
The worst part of it for her, I think, is that her mom was her best friend. Her mom was who she could have and would have turned to at 3 AM when she couldn’t sleep. Her mom would have known just the right words to soothe her daughter’s heart. For the daughter, it’s the combination of the perfect words and the mother’s voice that makes you feel as if everything’s going to be OK. Everything will be alright enough to at least set things aside for a few hours while you sleep. It was a year ago that she lost her mom.
We both swam our laps for 30 minutes and then paddled back and forth talking for another 13 minutes. Since it was her conversation, I let her choose when she was done talking… she eventually did and thanked me for listening.
Sometimes that’s all people need… is someone to listen. It was the easiest thing in the world for me to do and all it took was just a little bit of my time. No matter where else I may fall short, I felt like that was something I could do.
I went home feeling at peace for having helped her a little bit. I also felt immensely grateful… I really do have a good boss and job. And I have a wonderful, living mom who arrived safely in the states yesterday and I will get to see on Friday.
For now, this moment in time, I’m good. Things could change tomorrow, but I’m optimistic enough that I’ll take this moment and be happy.