“Doris, keep your composure!” Sister Margaret said to me. She was my fourth grade teacher. I was quite upset and argumentative that day, defending my idea of what the art group should have worked on to present at a local art festival. I was outraged when the group rejected my idea.
I was a top student, earning high grades. My family wouldn’t stop bragging about “how smart” and “what a good girl” I was. But my pride stumbled that day.
“The world doesn’t revolve around you,” Sister Margaret told me.
I sulked. Sister Margaret’s words shook me. I felt embarrassed. I realized that my pride had grown into arrogance and poor self-control. Sister Margaret gave me a stern scolding, and now, more than three decades later, her firm words still echo in my mind, reminding me to keep my composure.
Sister Margaret was trying to, and succeeded in, teaching me about reasonableness, patience, and self-confidence. And I am thankful for it. I’ve thought of her during a handful of events and incidents where I realized that keeping self-control and prudence had led to positive outcomes.
One event that I recall involved a resident’s family member. As I was ready to head to a care plan meeting, Mr L, whose father had recently been placed in the nursing home, showed up in my office, anxiously asking to talk with me.
“Mr L, I only have a couple of minutes,” I told him. “But I can meet with you after my meeting,” I offered.
“No, it has to be right now” he demanded. “Just come with me. I need to show you something,” he said.
I followed him down the hall. I could hear his heavy breathing. I could see that his face was flush. I sensed what he wanted to show me would be an unpleasant sight.
We walked into his father’s room. Mr L opened the door to the bathroom. He then asked me to step in. He stood over the toilet, pointing toward the bowel, with a stern expression and arched eyebrow. The toilet that was dirty. It clearly had been used and not flushed.
“Do you see this #%!@? Mr L yelled at me while pointing to the toilet with his outstretched index finger. He then brought his finger close to my face. His glaring eyes reflected his rage. It was almost as if burning embers had replaced his eyes.
“I am tired of this @!#%” Mr L exclaimed. Then he started making all kinds of threats.
Amazingly, I was not scared of him, but rather annoyed. I felt humiliated. I wondered why we put up with his uncouth behavior which was not new, coming from him. But I remembered these incidents were to be handled professionally.
I looked at him. I didn’t say a word. I flushed the toilet. Then I looked him in the eyes,
shaking my head, and showing my understanding of his frustration. His outrage was not diminished.
“Don’t you see that you have to hold the handle down or it won’t flush? he screamed.
Mr L seemed to enjoy proving that there was something wrong with the toilet that would justify his hatefulness.
“I will address this, Mr L,” I said, in a calm tone, even though I felt a growing turbulence inside me. Mr L gave me a doubtful look. I did my best to disregard it.
We both left the room and headed off in different directions. I reported the problem with the toilet to maintenance. While walking the hall, I was immersed in my thoughts, reminding myself to keep my composure. I remembered Sister Margaret. And I was grateful again because she taught me wisdom.
After addressing the incident with some of my co-workers, the issue was resolved within a few hours. The toilet was actually replaced with a new one that worked properly.
Surprisingly, Mr L came back to my office, with a grin on his face.
“Thank you for taking care of the problem,” he whispered, and left.
Mr L was well-known for being a difficult and demanding man who often laced his
lashings with profanity. Listening to his “thank you” was definitely a reward—even if it was just for that day.
Yet my true reward was remembering the lesson Sister Margaret had the patience to teach me. A lifetime lesson that the world doesn’t revolve around me, but those that I am here to help. Every day.