The Cookie Lady

By Kathryn Fanning

 

Rain droned against the office window, matching my mood. I should have known that my new job at the hospital was too good to be true. Throughout the day, rumors warned that the newest employee from each department would be laid off due to a drop in census. I was the newest one in the training department.

My boss appeared at the door of my cubicle, interrupting my thoughts. "Got a minute?"

My neck chilled as if he'd shoved ice under my collar. I figured a minute would be all he needed to say, "You're fired!" Would it matter if I told him about my roof leak and overdue notices?

"You probably know we're cutting back," he began. "Administration wants us to offer outplacement classes to help those employees find other jobs. Show them how to write a resume, make a good impression in an interview and so on."

Apprehension made a fist in my stomach. I might as well have been an executioner sharpening her own ax. "Fine," I mumbled, not knowing what else to say.

After he left, I decided to go home early. If someone saw my tears, I'd pretend I had allergies. Through my blurry eyes, I noticed a paper plate of peanut butter cookies, crisscrossed with fork marks, on the secretary's desk.

"Who brought the cookies?" I asked.

"Some lady leaves them every Friday," she said. "Help yourself."

I blotted my eyes with the back of my hand before taking two. Life's so ironic, I thought. I was expected to teach a job-hunting class before I got my own pink slip while some rich volunteer donated cookies so she wouldn't feel guilty about not having to work. Her maid probably baked them.

"See you tomorrow," I said, wondering how many more times I'd have the chance to say that.

In the hall, the elevator door opened, revealing a gray-haired woman about the height of a third-grader. Only her head and the top of her green apron were visible over the cart loaded with cleaning supplies. At least she had a job!

All the way home, I fought self-pity, finally giving in to the tears when I reached my driveway. I couldn't remember feeling so alone. And scared.

The next morning, I considered telling my boss to teach the classes himself. I didn't have the nerve, though, so I drove to the library for books to help me prepare my classes.

Later at the hospital, when anyone mentioned my leaving, I joked about taking early retirement and living in the barn on my father's farm.

I kept up the pretense of not caring for the next two weeks until the Friday of the final meeting with the personnel staff in the basement. Personnel employees handed out final paychecks and collected office keys while I waited at a table with my class schedule for those interested in help. Laid-off workers formed a line at the door, most of them crying. I'd be just like them in a couple of weeks.

The chaplain took the seat next to me, probably so he could comfort those who wanted to talk. He opened his Bible, worn and marked with yellow highlighter.

While he greeted the first employee to reach us, I glanced over to see what he'd highlighted. It was Romans 12:5: "...so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given us, let us use them." I read the rest of the passage before he reached for the book. "He, who teaches, in his teaching."

It was one thing to have a gift; another to have the chance to use it, I thought. My throat tightened against the tears that threatened.

Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a woman in a green apron shuffling to the table. The chaplain leaned over and whispered, "Good heavens! I can't believe our Cookie Lady is being laid off. We'll miss her as much as we'll miss her peanut butter cookies on Fridays."

Cookie Lady? I stared at the woman, noticing that her fingers were crooked, probably from arthritis. She certainly didn't fit the description of the wealthy volunteer I'd imagined.

Settling in the chair in front of us, she folded her hands in her lap like an obedient child waiting for instructions. When the chaplain spoke to her in Spanish, I knew my classes were useless for her.

She smiled and reached into the pocket of her apron to offer us cookies from a paper sack.

"Gracias," I mumbled, wishing I knew more of her language. Suddenly, my self-pity turned to shame as I realized how much better off I was than this poor woman who still thought of others despite her problems. The cookies seemed to emphasize the words from Romans - we belong to each other and each needs the other.

I knew I had to do something for her, even before I examined the classified section of the newspaper for myself.

At noon, the last of the workers filed past our table. I grabbed the cookies, all I planned to eat for lunch, and returned to my cubicle.

Grateful for the midday silence, I wrote and revised until I was satisfied I'd expressed how I felt about the unselfishness of the Cookie Lady who needed a job. Finally, I slid my article into an envelope and asked the boss for permission to leave for awhile, not explaining I was headed for the newspaper office.

Maybe my efforts wouldn't work, but at least I tried. This would be my cookie for her, I thought as I pulled into the newspaper building's parking lot.

After I located the appropriate office, the features editor agreed to see me for just two minutes because he was on deadline.

"I don't know if you print freelance material," I told him. "And I don't expect to be paid for this if you use it..."

"I'll look at it later," he promised, then returned to his work, so I knew my time was up.

Days went by and no story appeared. Why had I felt so sure that my story would interest the editor who had plenty of staff to write features? Several times I started to telephone but decided that if God wanted it to happen, it would.

I scanned the classifieds daily, but found no jobs I felt qualified for. Then after I decided that my article never would be published, I found it by accident.

Obviously, I wasn't the only one who noticed it; messages were in my slot on the secretary's desk. One was from the bakery down the street.

I held my breath as I dialed the bakery's number. This had to be a job for the Cookie Lady... Within minutes, I had an appointment to bring her in for an introduction to the bakery's owner. Excitement turned to anxiety when I realized I shouldn't have been so presumptuous.

Footsteps startled me and I glanced up to see the chaplain, newspaper in hand, and the Cookie Lady behind him.

"Good piece," the chaplain said. "Just wanted to tell you before we went to the employment agency."

"Maybe you can skip that," I said, smiling. "The bakery down the street has an opening. The owner read my article and thought she... Will you take her down since I can't translate for her?"

He grinned. "Be happy to, but she won't need a translator. Those folks are from Mexico, so she'll fit in just fine."

After they left, I couldn't concentrate on my search through the classifieds, wondering if she got the job. After all, she taught me to think of others in spite of my own problems.

I took the other messages from my pocket. At least I could answer the rest of my calls before I left. One seemed so unlikely that I read it twice. "An editor of a local magazine liked your piece and wants you to call her next time you're looking for work. Here's her number and the name of her magazine."

Surely I couldn't have found a job so easily before I'd even mailed out a resume. No question about it - we are all one in body with Christ and I intended to remind others, just as the Cookie Lady had reminded me.

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