This week, at work, a fight broke out in the waiting room. Fortunately, it didn't get physical. Unfortunately, there were raised voices, swearing, and name calling.
Some people on staff ran into the middle of the fracas to break it up. The entire event was over in the course of only a minute or two. I joined another manager to speak with the instigator in a private room. She, the instigator, wrapped up her side of the story all pretty for us, and put a bow on it. We asked to make sure it didn't happen again. Then I thought I was done with the issue.
It was after noon, and I was just clearing off my desk for a lunch break, when a receptionist came to me and said that one of our clients was still upset about the fight, and wanted to speak to me. I invited the woman into my office. I didn't think that it would take long to sort things out. Frankly, I was hungry, the morning had been a long one, and I just wanted to get it behind me so that I could relax properly on my break.
The woman in my office had never been to our facility before. Nice first impression we were making. She had travelled a long way to get there. She was a veteran of the conflict in Afghanistan.
I have been following current stories in the news media of young veterans in the U.S. and Canada: their PTSD and troubles readjusting to civilian life; the lack of adequate support systems for them; the agony their families go through trying to help them. Never before had I sat down face to face with a real, live veteran.
I'm not going to get into the details of exactly why this situation had upset her. Suffice it to say that it had already been a long day for her, and the conflict seemed to have stirred up memories of other injustices. She told me "I have seen my friends die. I have fought for this country. How can someone speak to me like that?" Or words to that effect.
Obviously I didn't have any answers for her. All I could do was listen, and echo back what I was hearing to show that she was understood. I said "I cannot imagine what you have had to endure." I agreed that most civilians don't know how to behave or discipline themselves. She fought back angry tears and struggled with a mighty effort to hold herself together. She said, of the woman who insulted her, "She's lucky I didn't lose my temper. She is just really lucky that I didn't lose my temper."
It's been a long time since I looked into the eyes of someone in such a raw state of woundedness. She spent 20 minutes in my office, and by the end of it I was almost ready to start crying along with her. I thanked her from the bottom of my heart for everything that she has done for our freedom. It was difficult, and I was left shaken by the experience, but I am grateful to have had the chance to say thanks in person. At least that one good thing came out of it.