When I was quite young, my father had one of the first telephones in our neighbourhood. I remember well the polished old case fastened to the wall. The shiny receiver hung on the side of the wooden box. I was too little to reach the telephone, but would listen with fascination when my mother talked to it.
I came to realize that somewhere inside the wonderful device lived an amazing person with the name "Information please," and there was nothing she did not know. I overheard my father saying to my mother that "Information please" could supply anybody's number and even give you the correct time of the day.
My first personal experience with this "genie-in-the-bottle" came one day while dad was at work and my mother was visiting a neighbour. Amusing myself at the tool bench in the basement, I whacked my finger with a hammer. The pain was terrible, but there didn't seem to be any reason for crying because there was no one at home to give me sympathy. I walked around the house sucking my throbbing finger. Finally, arriving at the stairway, I saw...the telephone!
Quickly I ran for the footstool in the parlor and dragged it to the landing. Climbing up, I unhooked the receiver and held it to my ear. "Information please!" I spoke desperately into the mouthpiece just above my head.
A click or two later, a small, clear voice spoke into my ear:
"Information," she answered.
"I hurt my finger..." I wailed into the phone. The tears came readily enough now that I had an audience.
"Isn't your mother home?" came the question.
"Nobody's home but me," I blubbered.
"Are you bleeding?"
"No," I replied. "I hit my finger with the hammer and it hurts."
"Can you open your icebox?" she asked. I said I could. "Then chip off a little piece of ice and hold it to your finger," said the voice.
I did what she said and my finger stopped hurting!
After that, I called "Information please" for everything. I asked her for help with my geography, and she told me where Philadelphia was located. She helped me with my math. She told me that my pet chipmunk, which I had caught in the park just the day before, would eat fruits and nuts.
Then, there was the time when Petey, our pet canary, died. I called "Information" and told her the sad story. She listened, then said the usual things grown-ups say to soothe a child. But I was unconsoled. I asked her, "Why is it that birdies should sing so beautifully and bring joy to all families, only to end up in a heap?" She must have sensed my deep concern, for she said quietly, "Paul, always remember that there is another world to sing in." Somehow, I felt better.
Another day I was on the telephone again. "Information please," I spoke into the receiver.
"Information," said the now familiar voice.
"How do you spell 'fix'?" I queried.
All of these conversations took place on the phone in my childhood home in a small town in the Pacific Northwest.
When I was 9 years old, we moved across the country to Boston. I missed my friend very much. I longed to say, "Information please," into that old wooden box back home, and somehow I never thought of trying the tall, shiny new phone that sat on the table in the hall.
As I grew into my teens, the memories of those childhood conversations never really left me. Often, in the moments of doubt and perplexity I would recall the serene sense of security I had then. I appreciated now how patient, understanding, and kind she was to have spent her time on a little boy.
A few years later, on my way west to college, I had to stop at the airport in Seattle. I had a half hour or so between planes. I spent 15 minutes on the phone with my sister, who lived there now. Then, out of the blue, I decided to dial my hometown operator and found myself saying, "Information please."
Miraculously, I heard the small, clear voice I knew so well. "Information," she replied." I hadn't planned this, but heard myself saying, "Could you please tell me how to spell, 'fix'?"
There was a long pause. Then came the soft-spoken answer, "I guess your finger must have healed by now."
I laughed. "So it's really still you," I said. "I wonder if you have any idea how much you meant to me during that time."
"I wonder," she said, "if you know how much your calls meant to me. I never had any children, and I used to look forward to your calls."
I told her how often I had thought of her over the years and I asked if I could call her again when I came back to visit my sister.
"Please do," she said. "Just ask for Sally."
Three months later I was back in Seattle. A different voice answered, "Information." I asked for Sally.
"Are you a friend?" she asked.
"Yes, a very old friend," I answered.
"I'm sorry to have to tell you this," she said. "Sally had been working part time the last few years because she was sick. She died five weeks ago." Before I could hang up she said, "Wait a minute. Did you say your name was Paul?"
"Well, Sally left a message for you. She wrote it down in case you called. Let me read it to you. The note says, 'Tell him I still say there is another world to sing in. He'll know what I mean.'"
I thanked her and hung up the phone. I knew what Sally meant.
This story came to me by way of e-mail. I thought our readers would enjoy both its humor and its poignant, inspiring message.
Perhaps the moral of the story is this: "Never underestimate the impact you have on others," or, " Even the smallest kindness can leave a lifelong impression."
As nurses working in the health care profession, and particularly in the college health setting we have unique opportunities each day to extend kindness, caring, and helpfulness to those with whom we have contact in the health center. Sometimes we might think that the things we do are small or unimportant. We bandage cuts and "boo-boo's," and listen to the joys and woes of college life. Little do we realize the influence of our words and actions on others as they grow in the process of their lives.
During my early years of college health I saved a page of an old calendar. Even though the corners were well worn, I kept it on the wall in my office for many years.. On it was a picture of an elderly man feeding a peanuts to a squirrel in a wooded park in autumn. The quote below the picture read, "The best portion of a good man's life are his little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and love."
Another favorite old poster of mine illustrated a child dressed as a nurse, putting bandages on a dog. The caption read, "No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted."
The longer I work in college health and the older I get in life, the more I am convinced that the little kindnesses, the little acts of gentleness, compassion, and love that we extend to others in the course of each day are somehow the most important things we do.
I guess this email story was a reminder once again of the things that are important...in college health and in life. I found it poignant and inspiring. That is why I wanted to share this story with you, my colleagues, as we begin another Fall semester in the wonderful profession of college health.
-- Carol Mulvihill, BSN, RN,C, Editor
P.S. If you liked this article, and would like to go for VERY inspiring, be sure to read Mother Teresa's Wisdom in the Fall 1997 issue of CQ.
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