A woman called me yesterday to ask about Medicare. She had been referred to me by a local doctor’s office. Her message was difficult to understand, but this isn’t the first time or the tenth time that’s happened. So I listened the best I could. Sometimes it helps to close your eyes and listen… like a test run on listening to this person, before you call them back. I am going to guess at a 70% comprehension rate on my end.
The thing about people calling and having a ‘difficult to understand speech pattern’ is you don’t yet know their comprehension level, their perception of how they are heard, their temperament, their question(s). And when you do anything for over a decade, you don’t really think about the process anymore. But it’s important to the story that I share, because I had to go back and rebuild it after I spoke with this woman.
We spoke. I did my best to listen. She was on a very low-cost plan, but the company has very poor customer service, and after a long conversation, the bottom line is that she sometimes feels like people don’t want to help her. She said they play dumb. Then she calmly asked me if I could understand her when she spelled her name. She spelled it. I got it wrong. Twice. I asked until I got it right. And then she gave me her birthday. I got it right the first time. I appreciated the exercise she asked me to participate in. And I became a student of her process, her struggle, her way of coping/compensating. I listened. I was honest. I feel when people ask for truth, I want to give it to them. But with an open and loving heart and tongue.
Then she said, “You know, it’s humiliating for me. And then they pretend they can’t understand a thing. They don’t want to help me.”
The thing is, I had immediately assessed her without thinking about it. She was smart. I would have guessed her 12 years younger by the conversation. She may have had a stroke, but her cognition didn’t belie that. She wasn’t on meds. I can tell if people are on a lot of pain meds pretty quickly. She asked great questions. She listened and shared her story. Except the effort it took to listen more carefully, the conversation felt easy. But because she was open about her situation, I didn’t get ‘humiliated’ from her at all. That word stung.
I wondered how it felt to her not to be able to communicate with people over the phone (our primary source of communication in customer service and during pandemics), when she was so incredibly capable of using words in her mind. Her actual communication was beautiful. How frustrating and demeaning that might feel to know you are able to have intelligent questions, that you are able to advocate for yourself, to need care that you can’t find and be unable to call and ask the questions intelligibily! It made me so mad! I wanted to break out of the box with my fists! Life isn’t fair. And I’ve talked to a lot of people who have difficulties. This woman never once pulled the victim card. She asked if I could understand her. She said she feels people don’t want to help. And I thought… I wonder if they don’t. She didn’t sappy ask or act like she was on my therapist’s couch. She said they felt that way and moved on. But I heard it really loud, with perfect diction.
She has COPD. This means she is on oxygen probably. I bet she rarely leaves her home. I bet people hear her voice and think she’s not very smart. I bet people get off the 800 lines because they don’t know how to handle these situations. I bet they think it’s too hard. I would like to think people aren’t cruel. But maybe they don’t know how deeply cruel life is to someone whose mode of communication is phone, to be unable to reach out and get help simply. She’s not someone who is unable to process and think and is cuddled away at home in medicated bliss! She is a completely whole person who needs some extra effort, who KNOWS she is potentially being shunned!
And she feels unimportant and pushed aside when she calls for herself, and she may be her only line of defense. Please remember her. I will call her Elsie. PLEASE remember Elsie the next time it appears you may have a difficult conversation with someone, or you have to wait a moment for someone who moves more slowly. It’s not pity we dole out when we take a moment! It’s only a moment of time, a moment of patience, a moment of love to the collective universe and the challenges it gives us all. Even if you can’t see the difficulty, the moment you give to any human, within the boundaries of your own respect to yourself, is given back a thousand times! Not with gift or money, but with your ability to slow down, to breathe, to think outside your own body, to love something outside yourself, to consider a different perception than you think you know.
The greatest gift might be to have the option to let go of any judgment! To simply help because there is not judgment. There is no reason to think any other way except that there is a human who is reaching out. And with plenty of nasty or abusive people in the world, for hell’s sake… help the people who are kind without question, without hesitation, without going to a place you feel you are being inconvenienced. Perhaps your ‘privilege’ not to be inconvenienced will keep you from your own beauty.
To you and all your inconveniences,
To you and all your difficulties,
They lie in a realm together. They both scream for awareness and nurturing! And so do the souls who feel unheard.