My dad isn't doing well, and I knew I was going to have to squeeze in a phone interview for a Register story while he was napping. I hadn't researched much about the person I was interviewing, so I was basically going to have to do it cold. Plus, the interview subject is 90; I wondered if she'd be able to hear on the phone. With a deep sigh, I dialed the number as Dad slept.
The woman's name is Alice, and she's worked as a secretary at a church -- the same church -- for nearly 60 years. For a long time, she said, the church didn't pay her, but she didn't really care; she loved the work. When the church finally did start giving her a salary, chances are it wasn't much.
But here's what Alice said: "The pastors I've worked for haven't ever made me come in all day, or even every day. But I loved knowing that I could just go up and work when I wanted to. The people there have always been so lovely, and they've been like a family to me. I had to have an operation right after I got married, so we couldn't have any children -- but the good Lord didn't forget me. Thanks to the church, I have hundreds of 'adopted' children and grandchildren.
"I can't imagine anyone more blessed than I am. I love my work, and I would still do it for free if they would let me. After all, I always know I have somewhere to go where people care about me."
I felt hot tears rolling down my cheeks as I listened to her. And I thought back over my piddly list of grievances for the day:
- I don't have time to get my roots colored.
- I have a canker sore.
- I have no time to myself.
- I need to iron.
- I forgot to switch laundry from the washer to the dryer before I left for work.
I felt ashamed. Here's what I really do have -- healthy, smart, accomplished kids. An understanding husband who keeps his grievances to himself. A job I like and that pays me fairly; freelance work that brings me satisfaction. Time to sit with my father as he, we're hoping, grows stronger.
And Alice is 90, and she gives thanks every day because she has somewhere to go, and she's able to see people who love her. A big paycheck? Something tells me if she was offered one, she'd give it away.
Sometimes I think that at my advanced age, I'm truly starting to "get" it. And then I listen to someone like Alice and realize I still have such a long, long way to go to be the person I want to be when I grow up.