Several years ago, not long after I started the business that I finally abandoned for a sabbatical/ retirement, a guy I knew from a professional association to which I belonged contacted me. He called me as part of his networking efforts in his job search.
I had spoken to him on occasion in the past but didn’t know him well. He served as executive director of a small specialty farming association, but he had lost his job, he said, several months prior. He was desperate for work. He needed help finding a job. I sensed, from his call, he needed someone willing to listen to his story. So I invited him to come to my office so we could talk about what, if anything, I could do to help.
He revealed, during his initial visit, that he viewed his job loss as the result of a personal vendetta against him by some members of the board of the association. He was bitter and angry; he felt used. I learned, too, that he had separated from his wife after the job loss and he was living with his sister, a situation that afforded him little privacy. His sister had children, as I recall, who were at home during the day, making it difficult to make telephone calls in his search for employment. He didn’t have a computer, either, a difficult situation at a time when writing letters and personalizing a resumé was so important.
I had an extra office in my suite of offices in the old lower-grade building, the only space I could afford. And I had an extra computer. So I offered to let him use the space, our phones, the computer, and our printers as resources for his job search. I assured him he could have the office as long as we did not need it; I assumed he would be gone in a matter of weeks.
He expressed surprise and deep gratitude at my offer. He accepted it, but emphasized that he would be gone the moment I needed the space. I suggested to him that he treat his job search as a full-time job, using my office hours as his office hours. He agreed and, for the first few weeks, he arrived early and left late.
During the course of those weeks, often he would use me as a sounding board, asking me for advice on how to respond to notices about available positions. And he began to reveal more about himself. He was, he said, a devout Christian. In fact, he had been a preacher at some time in the past and remained very active in a small Baptist congregation. I didn’t reveal my lack of religious beliefs until he asked, some time after he told me of his deep religious convictions. He was surprised at my disbelief. He seemed hurt that I didn’t share his beliefs. From that point on, the issue of religion generally was left out of discussions, cropping up only occasionally.
One day, though, he told me his life seemed to be coming apart at the seams and he felt like he was the worst kind of hypocrite. I just listened. He said he had separated from his wife because he was having an affair with someone he had met through his church. He claimed he still loved his wife, but he also loved this other woman, who lived somewhere in southern Oklahoma. He said he made regular visits to see her. He felt regret and remorse over his infidelity, but more than that he felt that he had sinned against his creator and that he was, therefore, a worthless human being. He did not know what to do.
I was not used to being the recipient of such personal and private information, nor did I feel qualified to offer reliable advice on such matters. However, I offered my perspectives; I tried to be non-judgmental and I tried to leave religion out of the picture, but it was hard to avoid it. The bottom line, I told him, was that he would have to make a choice between the wife he had married 15+ years before and the woman he claimed to love equally. I suggested to him that his own sense of what is right and moral ought to guide that decision and that institutional religion may or may not coincide with his personal sense of right and wrong. The choice was his to make; he had already made one and faced the consequences and now it was time to make another one and face those consequences, as well.
His time at my office began to decline. Some days he would arrive late, others not at all. I periodically asked him how he was progressing in dealing with his dilemma and he would say something to the effect that “I’m letting God guide me in this difficult struggle.”
After two or three months, business picked up for me and I needed the office he was using. I told him he was free to continue to come to the office and use our computers and printers and phone, but that he’d have to share the space with someone. He said he understood and would clear the desk of his materials and would put them in a briefcase so he could shuttle them back and forth.
He shuttled his materials back and forth for three or four days after that, then he stopped coming in. A week or so later, I called him to ask him how he was doing and to reiterate that he was welcome to continue to use my offices as a base for his job search. He told me things remained tough, but he was making progress. And then he surprised me by telling me he no longer felt comfortable coming in to my office because we did not share the same view of the world. He said he was a “man of God” and it was very important to him that he surround himself with people who shared his views of the world. His voice was not cold or accusing, it was just matter-of-fact; he felt he would be better served by his own kind.
I have not heard from him since. I’ve often wondered what became of him, but I’ve never tried to find out. For a while, I allowed myself to feel used and unappreciated for “all I had done” for him. But quickly I realized how utterly absurd that self-pity was. I didn’t offer him help because I wanted to earn credit in heaven, nor because I expected an outpouring of undying gratitude. I offered to let him use my facilities because it seemed like the right thing to do, given his situation and my unused capacity.