Jack tossed the papers on my desk—his eyebrows knit into a straight line as he glared at me.
"What’s wrong?" I asked.
He jabbed a finger at the proposal. "Next time you want to change anything, ask me first," he said, turning on his heels and leaving me stewing in anger.
How dare he treat me like that, I thought. I had changed one long sentence, and corrected grammar, something I thought I was paid to do.
It’s not that I hadn’t been warned. Other women who had worked my job before me called Jack names I couldn’t repeat. One co-worker took me aside the first day. "He’s personally responsible for two different secretaries leaving the firm," she whispered.
As the weeks went by, I grew to despise Jack. His actions made me question much that I believed in, such as turning the other cheek and loving your enemies. Jack quickly slapped a verbal insult on any cheek turned his way. I prayed about the situation, but to be honest, I wanted to put Jack in his place, not love him.
One day another of his episodes left me in tears. I stormed into his office, prepared to lose my job if needed, but not before I let the man know how I felt. I opened the door and Jack glanced up. “What?” he asked abruptly.
Suddenly I knew what I had to do. After all, he deserved it.
I sat across from him and said calmly, “Jack, the way you’ve been treating me is wrong. I’ve never had anyone speak to me that way. As a professional, it’s wrong, and I can’t allow it to continue.”
Jack snickered nervously and leaned back in his chair. I closed my eyes briefly. God help me, I prayed.
“I want to make you a promise. I will be a friend,” I said. “I will treat you as you deserve to be treated, with respect and kindness. You deserve that. Everybody does.” I slipped out of the chair and closed the door behind me.
Jack avoided me the rest of the week. Proposals, specs, and letters appeared on my desk while I was at lunch, and my corrected versions were not seen again. I brought cookies to the office one day and left a batch on his desk. Another day I left a note. “Hope your day is going great,” it read.
Over the next few weeks, Jack reappeared. He was reserved, but there were no other episodes. Co-workers cornered me in the break room. “Guess you got to Jack,” they said. “You must have told him off good.”
I shook my head. “Jack and I are becoming friends,” I said in faith. I refused to talk about him. Every time I saw Jack in the hall, I smiled at him. After all, that’s what friends do.
One year after our "talk," I discovered I had breast cancer. I was thirty-two, the mother of three beautiful young children, and scared. The cancer had metastasized to my lymph nodes and the statistics were not great for long-term survival. After my surgery, friends and loved ones visited and tried to find the right words. No one knew what to say, and many said the wrong things. Others wept, and I tried to encourage them. I clung to hope myself.
One day, Jack stood awkwardly in the doorway of my small, darkened hospital room. I waved him in with a smile. He walked over to my bed and without a word placed a bundle beside me. Inside the package lay several bulbs.
"Tulips," he said.
I grinned, not understanding.
He shuffled his feet, then cleared his throat. "If you plant them when you get home, they’ll come up next spring. I just wanted you to know that I think you’ll be there to see them when they come up."
Tears clouded my eyes and I reached out my hand. "Thank you," I whispered.
Jack grasped my hand and gruffly replied, "You’re welcome. You can’t see it now, but next spring you’ll see the colors I picked out for you. I think you’ll like them." He turned and left without another word.
For ten years, I have watched those red-and-white striped tulips push their way through the soil every spring.
In a moment when I prayed for just the right word, a man with very few words said all the right things.
After all, that’s what friends do.