A Lesson for a Lifetime


When I arrived at 6 a.m. in the large hospital kitchen, Rose was already checking name tags on the trays against the patient roster. Stainless steel shelves held rows of breakfast trays which we would soon be serving.

"Hi, I'm Janet." I tried to sound cheerful, although I already knew Rose's reputation for being impossible to work with. "I'm scheduled to work with you this week."

Rose, a middle-aged woman with graying hair, stopped what she was doing and peered over her reading glasses. I could tell from her expression she wasn't pleased to see a student worker.

"What do you want me to do? Start the coffee?"

Rose sullenly nodded and went back to checking name tags.

I filled the 40-cup pot with cold water and began making the coffee when Rose gruffly snapped, "That's not the way to make coffee." She stepped in and took over.

"I was just doing it the way our supervisor showed us to do it," I said in astonishment.

"The patients like the coffee better the way I do it," she replied curtly.

Nothing I did pleased her. All morning her eagle eyes missed nothing and her sharp words stung. She literally trailed me around the kitchen.

Later, after breakfast had been served and the dishes had been washed, I set up my share of trays for the next meal. Then I busied myself cleaning the sink. Certainly Rose couldn't criticize the way I did that.

When I turned around, there stood Rose, rearranging all of the trays I had just set up!

Totally exhausted, I trudged the six blocks home from the University of Minnesota Hospital late that June afternoon. As a third year university student working my way through school, I had never before encountered anyone like Rose.

Fighting back tears, I wrestled with my dilemma alone in my room. "Lord, what do you want me to do? I can't take much more of Rose."

I turned the possibilities over in my mind. Should I see if my supervisor would switch me to work with someone else? Scheduling was fairly flexible. On the other hand, I didn't want to be a quitter. I knew my older co-workers were watching to see if my actions matched my words.

The answer to my prayer caught me completely by surprise -- I needed to love Rose.

Love her? No way! Tolerate, yes, but loving her was impossible.

"Lord, I can't love Rose. You'll have to do it through me."

Working with Rose the next morning, I ignored the barbs thrown in my direction and did things Rose's way as much as possible to avoid friction. As I worked, I silently began to surround Rose with a warm blanket of prayers. "Lord, help me love Rose. Lord, bless Rose."

Over the next few days an amazing thing began to happen. As I prayed for this irritating woman, my focus shifted from what she was doing to me, and I started seeing Rose as the hurting person she was. The icy tension began to melt away.

Throughout the rest of the summer, we had numerous opportunities to work together. Each time she seemed genuinely happy to see me. As I worked with this lonely woman, I listened to her--something no one else had done.

I learned that she was burdened by elderly parents who needed her care, her own health problems, and an alcoholic husband she was thinking of leaving.

The days slipped by quickly as I finished the last several weeks of my summer job. Leaves were starting to turn yellow and red, and there was a cool, crispness in the air. I soon would be returning as a full-time university student.

One day, while I was working alone in one of the hospital kitchens, Rose entered the room. Instead of her blue uniform, she was wearing street clothes.

I looked at her in surprise. "Aren't you working today?"

"I got me another job and won't be working here no more," she said as she walked over and gave me a quick hug. "I just came to say good-bye." Then she turned abruptly and walked out the door.

Although I never saw Rose again, I still remember her vividly. That summer I learned a lesson I've never forgotten. The world is full of people like Rose--irritating, demanding, unlovable - yet hurting inside. I've found that love is the best way to turn an enemy into a friend.

2002 Janet Seever jseever1@shaw.ca

Janet Seever, the mother of two adult children, lives with her husband in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, where she is a writer for Word Alive magazine. Her articles have previously appeared in a variety publications and Web sites. A short story of hers was published last year in The Essence Collection: Celebrating the Season. "A Lesson for a Lifetime" took place in 1966.

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