A Fond Farewell

IMG_0358I’ve never been very good at saying goodbye, especially to someone I really like.  So when I heard that one of my very favorite staff members at the animal shelter where I volunteer was planning to retire this month, I didn’t react well.

First I tried to convince her to stay.  When that didn’t work, I tried to convince management that she wasn’t really old enough to retire yet.  Sadly, I never did figure out how to forge a fake birth certificate that would back up my claim, so that didn’t work either.  All I had to fall back on was denial, but as the day of her actual retirement crept closer, that stopped working as well.  You can’t help plan someone’s retirement celebration without also recognizing that they actually are going to retire.

I know my friend deserves to retire and that she is ready for this new phase of her life, and I also know I need to support her in this decision.  That’s what friends do.  But the problem is that knowing she won’t be at the animal shelter anymore just makes me incredibly sad, and even a little bit lost.

She taught the volunteer orientation class I took when I first started at the shelter over fifteen years ago, and I still remember what a great job she did of preparing us for the realities of volunteering in an open-admission animal shelter.  It wasn’t long before I, along with most of the other volunteers, learned that she was an excellent source of advice, guidance and support when we needed it.  I saw how protective she was of the animals in her care, and how compassionate she was towards the people she worked with, and how helpful and patient she was with people who came in to adopt a new pet.

Lots of people are good at their jobs, but my friend was one of those who always went the extra mile, both for the animals and for the people around her.  She sent regular texts and emails, letting volunteers know that a favorite dog had finally been adopted so we could celebrate the good news even when we weren’t at the shelter.  She listened to us when we needed a sympathetic ear, and cheered us up when we were down, and was rather well known for her habit of breaking into an impressive “happy dance” when she thought the situation called for it.

My friend was a fixture at the animal shelter and her departure is going to be felt deeply by all those who worked with her.  I suppose our grief over her retirement is the proof of what a terrific job she did during her time there and what a wonderful friend she was to all, of both the two-footed and the four-footed variety.   We only miss what, and who, we truly value.  And we will miss her very much.

I still can’t quite imagine what the shelter will be like without my friend, and I know that the next few weeks are going to be a major adjustment for many of us.  But we will continue our volunteer work, doing our best to help the animals, celebrating the successes, and offering support to each other when we need it.  And I can’t think of any better way to honor my friend’s legacy than that.

Quietly Doing Good

Years ago, I was cooking dinner in our kitchen when I heard the ominous sound of something very heavy landing on our roof.  The wind had been getting steadily stronger all day, so I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when I looked out our back door and saw that the massive elm tree in our yard had been completely uprooted.  Most of it was now resting on the corner of our house, directly above our daughter’s bedroom.  We called our insurance company right away, only to find out that there was wide-spread damage in our area and that help would not be coming anytime soon.  We were finally able to find a tree company to actually get the tree off our house, but we were put on a waiting list to get the hole in our roof fixed.  It was a frustrating situation, and my stress level was off the charts.

A  couple of days afterwards, a friend stopped me as I was leaving church and offered me materials to temporarily patch the roof until the professionals could get to it.  As he was loading the stuff into my trunk, he also offered to come over and help my husband do the patching if needed.  It was such a simple gesture, but I can’t begin to tell you how much it meant to my husband and I.  Having someone reach out in a time of need can make all the difference when we are feeling discouraged and overwhelmed.

Looking back on it, I’m not surprised at my friend’s actions.  He and his wife were very active in our church in their own quiet way.  They didn’t draw attention to themselves, just saw what needed to be done and got to work:  teaching the children, working on the building, lending a hand at special events.  Whenever and wherever help was needed, they helped.  So when they heard that a tree had fallen on our house and we couldn’t find anyone to repair the roof, naturally they stepped in.  And they gave me the supplies in the parking lot, after most people had gone home.  They didn’t need anyone to witness their generosity.

I’ve been a part of many different groups and organizations over the years, and the one thing they have in common is that they all have a few people in them just like my friends.  People who are happy to help with whatever is needed, working in the background and feeling no need to call attention to themselves and their good works.  Their work is rarely acknowledged, but they aren’t doing it for the thanks.  They are doing it for the simple reason that the work needs to be done.  These people see the same problems the rest of us do, but rather than just complaining, they work toward solutions.  And while they don’t solicit praise or recognition for themselves, they are quick to offer an encouraging word to others.  They are, without exception, the backbone of whatever organization they happen to serve.

There will always be those that seek the limelight and that excel in high-profile, leadership positions.  And there’s nothing wrong with that, as every organization has to have someone in that role.  But I believe that the true heroes are the ones who prefer to work quietly and efficiently behind the scenes, making sure that whatever needs to happen actually does happen.  They are the ones doing the most good, and they are the ones who understand that doing good is its own reward.  They are also the people I admire the most.

A Life Well Lived

It’s been many years since my grandfather died, but today is his birthday, so I suppose it’s only natural that I should find myself thinking about him.  He was a small man with a gentle, unassuming manner, and unlike the rest of my family, he wasn’t much of a talker.  He lived, worked, and raised his family in the same neighborhood he was born in, practicing dentistry for forty-eight years in an office that was across the street from the house he lived in as a child.

image23-1_0077At family gatherings he could usually be found in the kitchen, seated at the table with the grandkids, drawing, playing games, or showing us how to make rows of little soldiers with his manual typewriter.  He was infinitely patient with us, and always encouraging.  If I couldn’t think of something to draw, he would simply look at my blank, white piece of paper and tell me that I had made a fine picture of a polar bear in a snow storm.  He was a natural with children, and always ready to accept an invitation to a make-believe tea party.

Shortly after marrying my grandmother, he moved into a two-bedroom brick bungalow on an unpaved street on what was then the outer edge of the city, where he lived for over fifty years.  Those who knew him then swore they had seen him sitting quietly in the back yard, holding out breadcrumbs for the wild birds, which would actually eat them out of his hand.  By the time I came along, the neighborhood around my grandfather’s house had become very urban, but he still put out bread crumbs each morning for the sparrows who gathered on his back porch, chirping in anticipation.

My grandfather had a very strong, if somewhat old-fashioned, sense of what was proper, and he stuck to it religiously.  He wore a suit every day, even after he retired from his dental practice.  His idea of casual attire was to remove his jacket and roll up his shirt sleeves.  Once, I saw him putting on his hat and suit jacket as he was heading out the back door, and asked him where he was going. He answered,  “I’m going to take out the trash.”  He didn’t understand, or care to understand, the more casual culture that surrounded him in his senior years, and continued to refer to almost everyone as a lady or a gentleman long after those terms had gone out of style.

Dentist officeHis dental practice was very busy, but not exactly profitable, as my grandfather rarely raised his rates.  He knew that most of his patients could not afford to pay very much for their dental care, and he charged them accordingly.  “Doc Jones” was well known and liked in his neighborhood, and for good reason.  I don’t think he ever felt that he was making a personal sacrifice by keeping his rates low, as he lived very modestly by choice.  His life consisted of his dental practice, his family, his friends, and his church, and he seemed quite content.

Sometimes, when my life seems to be a bit too complicated or I am unhappy because I think I need to have more of this or that, I try to think of my grandfather and the simple way that he lived his life, and to use it as an example for my own.  Because I can’t really think of a better role model…..