Inspiration really does come at the right time, and for me it’s often when I think I have nothing to write about. When I set off to start this blog entry, I found myself looking at this piece on my wall that I absolutely LOVE! I have looked at this every single day and often look back on the circumstances under which it became mine. I cherish this piece more than most other gifts I have been given throughout my lifetime, and undoubtedly because of the story behind it.
Ok, so back when I had first been given my diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, I had been working at that national retailer for just shy of two years. I couldn’t say for certain if my position was as Assistant Operations Manager (Ass-Ops, as we liked to call it) or lead Customer Service Associate (CSA), but I was definitely part of the formal wear department (as I was for all of my roughly twelve years with the company. Most of my duties revolved around helping customers choose their rental attire for their formal events (weddings, proms, galas, and the occasional funeral). I had also received training on measuring people for these pieces (yes, even the occasional female), and by that time, I was pretty dang good at getting them in the right sizes for the products they had selected.
One day, within a few months of my diagnosis, a very nice gentleman came in to be fitted for his tuxedo for a formal dinner given by the American Heart Association because his friend’s daughter was one of the guests of honor. My teammates sent him back to where I was sitting at the desk in our tuxedo department and I greeted him kindly and invited him to sit across from me while I got the necessary information to find his event’s file. I asked the typical interview questions before I could start on his measurements and help him select a style he would be comfortable in. (Our products fit differently depending on brand and style, so knowing his style preferences were an important step in the process.)
At the time, I had been having some bothersome symptoms and had been using a cane as a “just in case,” as I often do in the midst of a flare-up. I laugh about it these days, but back then I was highly self-conscious, since I was just 28 and didn’t look to be at all disabled. When I found the file I needed, it showed that there were no specific styles required and he could choose what he pleased. I grabbed my cane and tape measure and I asked him to stand in front of me so I could take his measurements (customer service tip: know your job so well that you know the most efficient ways to do anything, and you’ll never fail; Especially if you can do it with a genuine smile on your face!). I usually made small talk with my customers along with my interview questions. I like to think that it made the process better for us all.
Of course, when young, healthy-looking me stood up, cane in hand, this customer (who we’ll call EZ) hesitantly inquired about my cane. Naturally, he guessed that I was recovering from an injury of sorts. But blunt little ol’ me didn’t mince any words as I nonchalantly told him that I was recently diagnosed with MS and was having a bit of an exacerbation; the cane just made me feel more secure in my balance. He remarked with his apologies that I had to deal with such a disorder at my age, but then our conversation took a more spiritual, positive turn.
I felt God’s presence in this man who was a complete stranger before this chance interaction, and as we spoke, he struggled to recall a quote he said his mom loved, something about God only giving us what we can handle. I quickly tried to recall my favorite Mother Teresa quote (though not verbatim) and we laughed about how we knew what we were trying to say, but both at a loss for the actual quote. (I hope I never forget how I felt as we laughed about a quote we both knew, but couldn’t in that moment recall completely, because it was definitely an uplifting moment! I may quite possibly remember his name for the rest of my life, even if I can no longer conjure up a mental image of him.)
As I continued assisting him in selecting his formal attire, we continued easily in our conversation, but I couldn’t tell you what else we had spoken about that day. I know it was not an incredibly long interaction. When we finished with his transaction and I had given him his pickup instructions, I shook his hand and thanked him for letting me assist him and I bid him farewell until his October event.
Flash forward to the week of his formal dinner and EZ comes in to pick up his rental. I recognized him immediately and greeted him by the registers at the front of the store, where I had just been helping a coworker. I instructed him to wait by the fitting rooms and I would go retrieve his tuxedo. Somewhere during the walk from the front of the store to the tuxedo department, he smiled and told me he was happy to see me without that cumbersome cane in tow. I explained that the exacerbation had gone away after a long week of steroid therapy (after we had last met in the summertime), and I thanked him for his kind words and well wishes. I finished setting up his garments in the fitting room and asked him to step out for final adjustments when he was done trying on the major pieces (shirt, vest, pant, shoes) and I would help him with the coat once I had made any necessary adjustments to the other pieces.
By the end of his fitting, he had complimented me on how easy and stress-free I had made this entire process for him. I know I likely gave some smart ass response like “I would hope that after my 7 years in the business, I have learned a couple things,” and shrugged it off as being my job (because believe it or not, I haven’t always been good at accepting compliments). EZ couldn’t have been a more pleasant customer to help, even if I have had more than my share of wonderful customers over the years! (And yes, I have also had to deal with the not-so-nice customers as well, but I choose not to dwell on negatives very long.) I told him he would have to bring a few pictures of him and his group at the dinner when he returned his tuxedo, like I did with all my favorite customers through the years. (I just really like seeing people looking good and having fun!)
Well, that Sunday his tuxedo was due back to the store, but it was a scheduled day off for me that week, so his pickup was my final personal encounter with him. But that is not where this story ends, either…
I got a call that Sunday from our assistant store manager, J, because he wanted to see if I would come in to the store to get something a customer had just dropped off for me. J kept jabbering on about this package, so I told him I would head up there in a little bit. Typically when I got called on my days off, it was because someone else called in to work, but hearing J tell me this story about this mystery customer who left a package and complimented me on my service, my curiosity was certainly piqued!
I have received plenty of thank you cards and emails from grateful customers throughout the years, but I had never received a package before (or after) that point! When I arrived to the store, J was eagerly anticipating my arrival. He had already told me a description of the customer, but nothing could have prepared me for what I would find!! I hadn’t even looked in the thin gift bag yet – about the size of piece of copy paper, and roughly half an inch thick – but as I began to read the attached card, I suddenly felt my eyes fill with tears of happiness.
To say that I was overwhelmed by this man’s gesture is a bit of an understatement, because the card told me everything I needed to know about this gift: it was the very plaque that was once his mother’s! This man, who was a perfect stranger to me prior to his initial visit to the store, had now given me a thoughtful, meaningful gift that could very well have been a family heirloom, but instead he wanted ME to have it!
Me – that simple retail employee who was just doing her job, in the manner she tried to provide service to every customer! I didn’t feel that it was something I deserved for simply doing my job, but EZ felt that I would appreciate that plaque most! Jaw dropped. Tears flowed. I finally opened the bag and took out the plaque with tears still in my eyes (and a bunch of nosy co-workers waiting to see what I had received) and told everyone that I would need a moment to gain my composure back.
While I stepped outside, they took turns reading the note and looking at that extremely thoughtful gift. They had already seen me through the beginning of my journey with Bertha as my daily companion, so not one person questioned my very emotional reaction they had just witnessed on my face. They understood.
So, EZ, if you miraculously make your way to my blog and see this post, please know that your gift has been such a treasured possession over the last eleven years that it has hung in my bedroom in every place I have lived since I received it! I will forever remember how selflessly you gave this stranger a thoughtful reminder of what I’m made of, even when I don’t always see it in myself. (P.S. I still pray for you and your family regularly!)
I hope every single one of my readers has an experience like this at least once in their lives, because no matter how small you think your gifts may be, they might just mean the world to someone else!!