“Three strikes and you’re out!” That’s my rule and I tell myself all the time, “don’t be a patsy; hold people accountable.” It’s not like I’m a pushover because I’m in the helping business anyway, is it? For cryin out loud, just because someone wants to volunteer, doesn’t mean I have to bend over backwards for them, right?
Well, ok, there I said it. Sounds good on paper. At least it did until I had a call about two weeks ago from a college student named Justus. He left a garbled message for me about his fraternity doing volunteer work, and so I called him back and left him a super happy sounding reply. “Hi there, this is Meridian and I am so excited and can’t wait for you to volunteer with us!” Ok, no, my return messages don’t really sound like a used car salesman, but sometimes I wonder if there is too much desperation in my voice.
On my desk I’ve always kept a yellow legal pad that chronicles the phone calls I receive and make. It is full of graffiti from color highlighters, shorthand and initials, like LM for left message, WCB for will call back, MA for made appointment. I can flip back and see anything that has languished a bit by the highlighted portions. When done, I line through them. It’s not a perfect system, but it’s better than all the post it notes I used to have stuck to everything (including my skirt as I walk away).
For days I went on about my business and then when flipping back over my legal pad, I found Justus’ number with the LM indication. Hmm, he did not call me back so I called him again. This time he picked up and I introduced myself and reminded him that I had left a message. “Oh, right,” he said and hesitated so I added, “You called about volunteering with your fraternity.”
“Yes, yes,” he said,”I got your information off the internet and would like to talk to you about our group doing some volunteering.”
“Ok,” I said, “why don’t we meet? I can come up to your school when it is convenient for you.” There, see, I made it easy for him to get involved. I mentally patted myself on the back and recorded our appointment on my calendar. Done, good.
Our meeting day arrived and I drove up to college and walked to the library where I plunked myself in the first set of easy chairs. I felt ancient, what with all the skinny jeans walking by, but I was “official” so I belonged there, kinda like the mom who polices the slumber party. I looked around at all the students and wafted back to my college days. Library, study, no difference except for all the devices. 9am became 9:15 then 9:30. Hmmm. I pulled out my phone and the slip of paper with Justus’ number on it and texted him. “Am in library, are you here?” At 9:45, I gritted my teeth and left, driving all the way back to the office, thinking of the work that had just piled up because I went on a wild goose chase for some college kid. Drat those irresponsible college types that don’t yet know how unforgiving the real world is!
The next day I had a message from Justus. “I’m so sorry, something came up, can you call me?” “Grrr,” I sputtered as I dialed his number. He picked up and cavalierly apologized and asked to meet. “Well,” I said, “can you come here?” He agreed that he could make the drive and we set a time, 2:00pm, for that Thursday.
Thursday at 2:00? You guessed it, no Justus. At 2:30 I got to serious work and forgot that I was stood up again. But he called at about 3 and said that something came up and could he meet me at 4:30 on Friday. 4:30 on a Friday? Oh, this will be a disaster, I told myself. Normally, I leave at 5:00 if I’m lucky and besides, every Friday at 3:00 I just literally lose all capability for rational thought. But, sighing, I agreed, while internally chastising myself for putting up with such youthful irresponsibility.
Friday was tough, busy, full of problems and issues and at 3:00 exactly, the brain stopped functioning properly. I checked my calendar and groaned. Instead of winding down, I had to gear up for Justus, that is if he actually showed. At 4:20, I walked to the front lobby to see if he was dutifully waiting there, but it was empty. I returned to my desk and finished up. At 4:50, I got a call from the front desk volunteer, Jan. Justus was there to see me. “Thanks, Jan,” I sighed. “Send him back, please,” Since it’s hard to literally kick oneself, I punched myself in the arm for agreeing to the time.
He came back and I waved to the small conference table near my office. “Nice to meet you ” I said, offered my hand and added, “you’ve got ten minutes.” He looked at me, saw my obvious annoyance and sat down.
Justus folded his hands and without prompting, began to tell me about his childhood in Africa and his family’s emigration to America when he was twelve. He talked about the expectations his parents placed upon him and their unwavering commitment to serving whatever community they lived in. He explained how, when he was in high school, he started his own food drive to feed local families in need. He said that he was studying sociology and foreign affairs and hoped to be an ambassador some day. He had earned a full ride scholarship to college and was elected the first Junior year president of his fraternity. His tenure, he told me, would be about serving the community. He had three semesters to make it happen. “I want my fraternity brothers to work hard, to sacrifice. to appreciate all they have when others have so little or nothing. I want them to learn what my parents taught me.”
I looked at the clock. 5:25. I wasn’t interested in going anywhere anymore. I was mesmerized by this young man. (and not in a creepy cougar way, so don’t even go there) At one point, I looked at him and said, “Who are you?” (no, really, I did say that and I got a smile) Clearly, I need to hear more. Mentally I made note that a whole lotta work was coming my way, but hey, how could I pass up this intriguing individual and the fraternity he is guiding?
We shook hands and agreed that I would come out and talk to his group in two weeks. I’ll show up on time and forget about our shaky start. I’m past that silly book cover and having read chapter one, can’t wait to read more.