Here is a photo of actor Mark Derwin, my niece Jamie, and actress Robin Riker at the Catholics in Media Awards earlier this year. Jamie has just been accepted into Georgetown University’s nursing program. I asked her if I could post the essay that she sent them as part of the admissions process. I found it very moving and I hope you will, too.
In July of 2006 I launched my own business, a women’s clothing boutique, in my hometown in California. I held ownership of the business for three years, and as I look back on the journey, I realize that I faced many challenges and obstacles that have provided me with many beneficial lessons about life; important lessons I never could have anticipated or predicted. What I remember most about the journey are the people I met, what I learned about them and what they taught me about myself. In my role as owner, I met countless women, listened to many stories, and engaged with a diverse population of strangers on a daily basis. One customer in particular, a woman whom I met early on, I will never forget.
Tina* discovered my boutique shortly after I opened my store for business. Fit, stylish, and attractive, she seemed to have everything one could want. Tina was the last person whom I would suspect to be a shoplifter. One day Tina strolled into the store, and something struck me as strange. The week before, a distinctive and expensive pair of designer sunglasses had gone missing. After I became aware of their absence I assumed I had simply misplaced them and was sure that they would turn up. After a moment, I realized that what was odd was that Tina was wearing them.
I was surprised and amazed. Tina had apparently forgotten that she was wearing them as she walked in, friendly and smiling. She must have noticed the shock on my face and realized what she had done, as her smile quickly faded and she nervously tried to put the sunglasses out of sight. Meanwhile, I knew I had to say something. I quickly realized I had a choice; I could confront Tina, demand the glasses back and then tell her to leave the store. I could even call the police. Instead, I chose to stay calm and approach the situation in a civil manner. I was angry, hurt, and blind-sided all at once, but I knew that if I got upset or emotional the situation would not be resolved in a constructive manner. Thankfully, we were alone in the store. After a few moments of silence, I said Tina’s name gently and asked her whether she had taken the sunglasses, and if so, would she kindly return them? Tina was speechless at first, and then she began to tremble. She seemed nervous and embarrassed and I was surprised to suddenly feel a rush of compassion for her. Tina confessed to the theft and apologized, but offered no excuses. I thanked her for her honesty. I told Tina she would be welcome in the store in the future, as long as she left her purse at the counter while shopping. Tina looked very upset but thanked me for being so understanding. She quickly left the store, and I never expected her to return. However, one week later Tina came in to shop and was very friendly and pleasant. Over the next three years, Tina returned often. She always left her purse at the counter and we never referred back to the incident again. .
I truly was surprised when I was able to see the situation with Tina come full circle. During 2007, my store was broken into, and the glass of the front door was completely smashed in. I had the door boarded up for a few days, waiting for final repairs to take place. Tina visited my store during this time and saw the damage. When she came to the register to pay for an item, she handed me a $50 bill and told me to contribute the money towards repairing my door. I was deeply touched. The money was nice, but the gesture was significant. I never could have anticipated a more meaningful interaction with someone who had previously stolen from me; to turn around and offer me one of the best gifts I have ever received. It was not the gift of money, but it was the gift of generosity and kindness in my own time of need.
What I learned from this particular experience is that kindness and compassion can evoke very positive reactions and outcomes when dealing with people. I also learned that no matter what mistakes people may make, they still deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. I now understand that the only real control I have when working with others has to do with the choices that I make and the actions I take.
Another very important lesson was learning how to extend compassion and place boundaries with others that have the potential to take advantage of me. I had no control over Tina’s choices, but by being kind and establishing strong boundaries with her, she remained a loyal customer and acquaintance.
I learned that Tina’s actions had nothing to do with me personally, but that her choice to steal must have come from personal issues in her own life. I am grateful that my ability to act compassionately, something I learned from my parents and family, has taught me that, when given a second chance, people can and will respond well. They respond often in ways that cannot be imagined. We all make mistakes, and we all deserve a second chance. People are not throwaway, and how they act in one moment is not necessarily who they are as a person.
I will always carry the memory of Tina with me. Most importantly, I believe I can transfer this learning moment to my life as a nursing student in the second-degree program. This experience is a standard for how I intend to relate to my classmates, professors, and most importantly, the patients I meet and serve while in training. By remembering this lesson of our common humanity, I am confident that I can transfer this to my future nursing practice and to each patient without distinction.