"All words are symbols that represent unspeakable realities. Which is also why words are magical." (Donald Miller tweet)

Monday, March 07, 2011

just a phone call

Sometimes it's the littlest thing that makes it all feel right.

For several years, we held a Community Volunteer Income Tax Program at our church. It's a Canada Revenue thing, run by volunteers. Someone wanted to do it, and we said, "Sure," figuring it would be no big deal. Little did we know that there would be a huge demand, an endless stream of people, each with a story. I didn't realize that many of the CVITP clients would be people who had been hit hard by life, who just needed someone to give them a little help, or a "hey, you're not alone" moment. It was one of the best things we've ever done, I think.

We couldn't do the program this year, unfortunately. Things change and we didn't have the people-power. One guy came by on Wednesday. We had helped him several years ago, and I actually did remember him. He was stuck again, caught in the bureaucratic nightmare that so often characterizes government processes. I couldn't help. I asked our resident Canada Revenue expert, and he sighed. "I can't help either, Patti. It's outside of my power. I don't understand what the problem is, but it's in the computers somewhere. Tell him to call the 1-800 number. Or maybe his MP."

I called the guy back on Friday and told him this. He was discouraged, really frustrated. He had called the 1-800 number repeatedly, only to be passed around from voicemail to voicemail. I suggested his MP, and he politely, sadly, thanked me, but I knew he believed it wouldn't do any good.  And maybe he was right.

I hung up, and thought for a moment. One of the things I've learned over the years about my job is that sometimes - sometimes - I can help because I know how to navigate systems. I don't like the systems either, and I've certainly experienced my share of frustration with bureaucracy, but I was raised with the skills - people skills, communication skills, social capital, whatever you want to call it - to generally get to a helpful conclusion of some kind. I know how to gently refuse to allow the powers-that-be to marginalize me.

So I called his MP's office. Explained who I was. Who he was. Asked if they could help. They were remarkably warm and understanding. "Send him over," they said. "Tell him we don't bite."

And this is where the littlest thing that makes everything feel all right comes in.

Yesterday - Sunday.  I work from about 8 AM to 9:30 or 10 PM on Sundays, with a break for lunch. I came back from lunch, and there he was at the door, waiting for me. "Can I have just a moment of your time?" he asked. I hesitated. I had done all I could do. I had nothing more to offer him. "Sure, come in," I said.

He pulled two thank you cards out of his bag. Both for me. He wasn't happy with the first one, so he got a second, and then felt I should have both. They had helped him, at his MP's office. When he got there, they knew who he was, they remembered the phone call, and in no time, the processes had been started to untangle the mess. And he wanted to thank me for making that phone call. It had made a difference.

It's rarely that simple. But it made my day. Those cards - both of them - will be taped on my wall for awhile.

And so another week begins.


Derbecker said...

Good for you - sometimes the system works, when approached at the right angle.

Sheepdog said...

love it!