Angel in the Elevator
It was raining hard that morning, and I dreaded having to walk around the building to the rear elevators—the ones that staff were supposed to use. I had already walked nine blocks from the only free spot even remotely close to my office. Nine blocks wasn’t really in the vicinity, but for free, I'd take it.
I had recently graduated with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. By the end of the summer, I had started working in the same neuropsychology office as three friends from college. We had all been psych majors and were hoping to eventually be on our way to graduate-level work in counseling or social work. Idealistic as most newly minted college graduates are, we shared a desire to help others.
But first, we needed some experience. Our office was on the 12th floor of just one of the many buildings in the middle of the sprawling university medical complex. The building’s labyrinthine corridors and skywalks were overwhelming, and everything looked the same—sterile and imposing.
Don't get me wrong: the hospital is a top-notch, world-renowned academic research hospital, and I've known many people who have great things to say about the excellent care they’ve received there. But to a shy 21-year-old with an as-yet-undiagnosed anxiety disorder that stayed through the roof most days, working there was downright scary.
I wasn't bad at the job—administering neurocognitive assessments to patients with dementia—but it was miserable for me. I asked patients questions in a battery of tests, marked down their answers, and prepared a simple report for the doctor. Some patients were delightful, laughing off the trouble they had with simple shapes and word recall. Others were angry at what was happening to them, or confused as to why they were there, and some took it out on the techs. I only cried and had to tap out for help one time. Even the post-doctoral fellow who bailed me out said that patient was the worst he'd ever seen. It was sad and exhausting to be around these patients all day—not a responsibility for the faint of heart.
It was, to be sure, a dead-end job for me. Plus, it paid peanuts so I also had to work nights at a coffee shop around the corner from my tiny, cramped apartment. The coffee shop gig meant late nights, tired feet and an aching back, but at least it was enjoyable work and filled out my wallet a little bit.
My fellow college friends and I held onto hope of moving on from the stress and drudgery of the neuropsychology department. That hope came in the form of getting a good recommendation to graduate school from our supervising doctor. I’m fairly certain that all the others got good recommendations, but I didn’t stay long enough for that: I quit after a year and a half to no one's astonishment except maybe the doctor.
As much as I wanted to leave almost every day I was there, perhaps he was glad to see me go, too. He kept a file of my mistakes, even the inconsequential ones. After making a vague reference to the fact that we all had personnel files, one of the other techs and I snooped in his office one day while he was at lunch to see what was in them.
My file had one sheet of paper torn from a legal pad. In the center of the page was taped one of those pink "while you were out" message slips. Per his protocol, I had taken a phone message for him and taped it to his door. However, when he returned and found the message, I could see from my workspace outside his door that he took it and began making some notes on it. He brought it to me to show where he had circled the “mistakes” I'd made: I'd neglected to write down the date and the time of the phone call. Silly me assumed that since he was only on his lunch hour, he would assume the date and the general time that the call had occurred. Nope. That “error” went in my file. In addition to the pink message slip, the paper in my files included his robotic remarks: "Went over message-taking protocol with Dana. She seems to understand now." All of it underscored by his initials.
Perhaps that gives you some insight into the personality of my boss. He had such a brilliant mind, having earned multiple advanced degrees, but he was excruciatingly awkward socially and as a supervisor. I was at once terrified and in awe of him. He desperately wanted to befriend us, but whenever he attempted to do so, it was cringey.
So, there I was on that rainy morning, fearful of my boss and the patients I was scheduled to see, annoyed by the nine blocks I had to walk in the rain because I couldn't afford a monthly garage permit, and dreading the terrible day ahead.
I passive-aggressively decided not to use the staff elevators and boldly take the visitor elevators to the 12th floor. That'll show 'em, I thought. The doors opened to an empty elevator and I walked on. As I was punching my floor, the lobby doors flew open, letting in a gust of wind and rain. I caught sight of a blond-haired, middle-aged woman in a trenchcoat running inside yelling, "Wait, wait!" I pushed the “door open” button while she clambered on and seemed to embrace the space.
I was all up in my feelings and close to tears when she looked at me and said with an unbelievable amount of enthusiasm and a delicious Southern accent, “Isn’t it a beeeeyoootiful day?" I must've had an odd expression on my face, or maybe she could sense I was on the verge of crying because she followed it with, "Whatever it looks like now, it's gonna be ok, darlin'. I believe it for you and for me." As if on cue, the elevator stopped at her floor, the doors opened, she winked at me and was gone.
For the rest of the trip up to the 12th floor, I felt a sense of peace and confidence that it would in fact be okay.
Unfortunately, it wasn't okay. Not that day. And not for many, many days after that. But I survived and finally turned in my resignation.
About a year later, I was a full-time barista and baker at the coffee shop. I had worked my way up to shift manager, which meant I trained the newbies. One Saturday morning, I was working with a young college student, Amy. She was bright, articulate, and fun to work with.
At one point in our shift, a friendly-looking middle-aged couple walked in the front door. When she saw them, Amy's face brightened and she flashed a big smile. "Hey!" she yelled over the counter. The couple returned her greeting with bigger smiles of their own as they made their way over.
"That's my angel." I barely breathed the words as I stared at the woman.
"Huh?" Amy said. "These are my parents, Mike and Kay." She proceeded to introduce us. And I immediately fell in love with the entire family.
Sometime later, I told Amy and her parents the story of that rainy morning, the miserable job, the constant anxiety. How Kay came running in and jumped on the elevator at the last minute. How she spoke loving words of peace and calm over me. How, in her presence, my spirit stilled, at least for a few moments.
Amy and I became good friends, later sharing a house with one of our dearest and best friends, Jamie. Sometime after that, Jamie and I ended up renting out bedrooms in Mike and Kay's house. That's a story for another day.
But that day, I believe Kay, unknowingly, began teaching me how God sometimes uses others to share a word directly from His heart. I would learn much later in seminary that Kay’s words were actually reminiscent of Julian of Norwich's from centuries earlier. Julian quoted these words from Jesus given to her during a mystic vision: "All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well."
In other words, "It's gonna be okay, darlin.'"
There's more to the story, but I gotta run for now. There's laundry on the line.