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grocery hidingThe other day I literally bumped into Carmen who has not been volunteering for over a year. I came around the corner at the grocery store and boom, there she was, picking out paper towels. Occasionally I run into former volunteers; those who left because they became ill, those who stopped because life changed, or those who just don’t volunteer anymore. Then there are the ones who left for another reason; mainly we asked them to leave because they did something egregious, like breaking rules, stepping over hard fast boundaries, meddling in financial affairs, yelling at a patient’s family or lying to us about a former run-in with the law. Sadly, there are some folks who just aren’t meant to be a volunteer, at least, not until they figure some things out.
You know how this goes. You’re out in public minding your own business and you suddenly catch a volunteer you don’t want to see (mainly because you don’t want to explain again how sorry you are things didn’t work out) walking amongst the artichokes and you panic and sprint the other way, pretending you see a friend in the distance? That’s how work catches up with you on a Saturday.
Well, Carmen is none of these volunteers. You see, my organization did Carmen wrong and it still pains me to this day. When I bumped into her, I grabbed her with a big smile and we hugged and I told her how much I miss her and how sorry (again) I was. She grinned at me, still a bit wounded and patted my cheek. “It’s ok,” she said, although to me it is not.
Let me tell you a bit about Carmen.
She came over from Cuba during the revolution and made her home in America with her husband, Jose. They are the type of couple who share their “love story” with anyone who cares to hear. He rescued her and brought her family over. She presided over a brood of six children, all now successful adults. Carmen makes mad coconut flan. Jose plays the guitar. They are infectious in a good way. But more than that, Carmen has a rare gift. She looks into your soul when she speaks to you. She tells you she loves you and she means it. You can feel her heart if you get within 20 feet of her. She is a petite woman with a giant presence. Patients loved her.
So, what happened, you ask. Carmen, an artist, wanted to give our organization a painting to put over a bare wall in the lobby. One of our managers told her to “paint whatever you want, I’m sure it will be beautiful.”
So, Carmen painted a lovely abstract depicting a family gathered around a bedside. It had bright colors, and gentle tones. It was a modern take on old fashioned love. It was Carmen.
She brought it in one day when I was not there, not that I could have prevented the hurt that followed, but I like to think I might have made it better somehow. It’s a control thing, I know. Another manager saw Carmen’s painting and deemed it “inappropriate” and told Carmen that we could not possibly hang it in our lobby. I do not think the manager was cold or dismissive, but Carmen was hurt. She took it well, I’m told but went home, talked it over with Jose and called to quit.
Now here’s the problem as I see it. We gave her permission to paint whatever she wanted. In good faith, she accepted the free hand she was given. We set her up, not maliciously, but irresponsibly and for a sensitive soul like Carmen, the rebuff was hurtful.
She tells me that she will be back one day and I believe her. After all, how can you stay away from something you are so incredibly good at? When she does return, everyone will be glad to see her and it will be business as usual.
But, right now, with Carmen gone, I think about all the patients who are not being helped by her. All over a flippant directive and a thoughtless reaction.
I wish I could paint. I’d paint Carmen back into our picture.