Humbled at the Social Security Office

Some reading this blog will know my sitz im leben, my “life setting,” others won’t. For those of you who don’t know me quite as well, I’m a follower of Jesus, a husband to Kaile, and a father to Silas and Maelin, 2 years old and 4 1/2 months old respectively.

Maelin is dreadfully sick at the moment, still recovering from his infants’ case of RSV [look it up]. Silas has a terrible rash on his back and legs, and he’s rather cranky on account of it.

Ok, so that’s the background. Oh, and for fun here’s a picture of them in one of their happier moments:

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Because it’s tax season, I recently became aware of the need to get Maelin’s social security card. It’s one of those chores that’s really hard to fit in amidst the busy and tiring stream of life. But on Monday, I had finally found time, and I took my documents to the social security office downtown here in San Francisco. We used to live in the building next to it, but it’s well out of the way now, even though I was headed to my office next.

Arriving at 9:10am, I took my tab at the kiosk: A465. The room was suffuse with the emotions one might expect: anger, boredom, nerves. After all, we were all waiting, all attempting to get the task done that we need done, be it social security payments, food stamp renewal, whatever.

It was close to 11am by the time my number was called. “A465, A465, window number 7,” came the voice over the PA system. I was there in an instant, reporting to the quiet Asian man who was there to serve all of us. “Do you have your insurance card?” “No, but I have a picture of it right here.”

Pause.

When we got Maelin’s birth certificate during another frenetic trip downtown, they put together a package of *everything* we needed. “Just take all this to the social security office,” they said, “and you’ll be all set.” Well, turns out that wasn’t the case. I wasn’t “all set.” Apparently I now needed original copies of the insurance card.

“Look, man,” I said, feeling that inner burn, “it’s right here on my phone. I took time off work to come down here and I’ve been in line for close to two hours, can we make this happen?” And there he was, quietly doing his job. “I’m sorry, sir, we have to have the original copy. If you come back tomorrow right at 9am the line shouldn’t be too long.”

After two hours of waiting, this isn’t what I wanted to hear.

I glared at him, stuffed all my documents back in the folder, and bolted out of there, overwhelmed with frustration at the wasted time. I may as well have been getting work for the week accomplished. Or I could have stayed with my family. Two hours, wasted!

The next day I returned, following the tip about coming at 9 sharp. A356 was my number. I glanced over to window 7, noticing it was the same gentleman. And, 40 minutes later, just like I dreaded, his voice came over the PA system: “A356, A356, window number 7.”

It was the same guy.

OF COURSE IT WAS THE SAME GUY!

For the first half of our conversation I was cordial. I tried to ignore the voice within. We Christians sometimes talk about the Holy Spirit speaking or comforting or challenging us. This time around, the Spirit was challenging me. I knew an apology was in order, yet I resisted for as long as I could.

Finally, toward the end of the conversation, I couldn’t resist any longer.

“Look man, I was rude yesterday. I’m really sorry,” I blurted. “It’s ok, it’s frustrating to wait for that long only to find out you’re missing a document.” Not having expected him to remember me, I shot back: “Yeah, but it was still rude. I’m really sorry.” “It’s ok, don’t worry about it!” he answered, smiling. “Take care!”

Almost every night I read a book about Jesus to our toddler, Silas, and one of the pages features Ephesians 4:32:

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. 

The illustration is really cute, two girls wearing clothing from bible times [because the book is about Jesus I guess?]. They are holding candles and smiling at each other.

Every night I read that book, yet in the grit and grind of life, those massive ideas are hard to embody. They are hard to live out. Saying sorry is hard for this proud, rushed, often-overwhelmed dad.

And yet, God is teaching me about the depth of his forgiveness for this [and all my other issues] not only in my family, my work relationships, my church, my memory, but also through a kind Asian social security office worker.

I’m humbled but thankful that God is patient with me, even when I’m not patient with his other children.

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