Every so often there comes a story that frees the soul from the struggles of our mortal lives, lifts us up, and gives inspiration to our core belief that good things happen to good people. Often they are fairytales we see on TV or in the movies. When we turn off the television, reality wakes us from a momentary dream of hope, and reminds us such tales are usually fiction. This story, however, is true.
Rachel, an African American single mom, sat at the reception desk of a cosmetics company in Los Angeles, California. She had worked for fifteen years, starting at the age of forty-five, just after the company was originated in the garage of the two partners, who are now married. Staff was always considered and treated as family. She was now in her early sixties. Rachel was a professional on the phone, but in person, she was taken with shyness, and when she became a little nervous, she would momentarily lose her voice. She did a good job of hiding it, but when it happened, her conversation would pause, her head and eyes would drop, and she would remain silent, until she regained her composure. She was always calm and her heart radiated good intentions to all she greeted.
This particular day gave her a bit of angst as she heard from a co-worker that the company had been sold to a Wall Street equity fund. The sale would close before Christmas. She didn’t know what an equity fund was, but it didn’t sound like she would be at the top of their employee priority list. More likely the new owners would ask her about retiring instead of rehiring.
She had driven from her apartment in Beaumont every day for the past fifteen years; a commute of one and a half hours each way, while simultaneously juggling the busy schedule of her daughter. Vacations were typically local, and neither she nor her daughter had ever been on an airplane. Life was a month-to-month struggle, but they had each other, and that was enough. Now with Christmas approaching, accompanied by an uncertain employment future, Rachel wasn’t so sure how merry the holidays would be. But she had been in tough situations throughout her life, she knew how to survive.
One week before Christmas, the sale of the company closed. She was sitting at the reception desk, her shoulder wide black hair perfectly manicured and sparkling in the bright white lights of the lobby. Her professional appearance was always accompanied by a warm smile. She was, after all, the first impression on visitors to the company headquarters.
Unexpectedly, she was paged to the owners’ offices. This had not happened in many months, and she knew what the conversation would be about. She would probably get a month’s pay, and she would begin looking for a new job after the New Year. She wasn’t sure a sixty-year-old woman would be able to secure a job, but something would come along. Her daughter was now twenty-six, and also worked for the company. Perhaps she would be able to keep her job.
Rachel knocked and entered the bosses’ office. Both of the founders were seated at a conference table. As she sat down, her nerves kicked in and her head nodded toward her chest. She probably wouldn’t have to do much talking anyway.
Joseph spoke first, “Rachel, we have two things to discuss with you.” Rachel could only think of two words; termination and severance.
“Both things I think you will find good news!” Joseph quipped. Her eyes lowered, and she was having trouble focusing on what could possibly be considered “good news.”
“First,” said Joseph, “the new owner wants our entire staff to stay on for at least five years and run the company without losing a single employee. Your job is secure, and we are giving you a raise beginning the first of the year.” Her eyes began to well up and her breath became short. There was no other news she needed to hear.
Then the other partner spoke. Jerry said, “And . . . we want to thank you for being with us since the beginning. It is a person like you who has made our journey a success, and a joy to pursue. You have been at the reception desk every day for fifteen years, and we thought you should be rewarded for your loyalty and your love.” Jerry placed an envelope in front of her and asked her to open it. Rachel carefully lifted the edge of the back flap of the envelope with her long red finger nails, slowly peeling back the seal. The process gave her momentary refuse, as her nerves were so locked up, she could not speak, nor breathe. Removing the contents was mechanical as she was still focused on the safety and blessing of continued employment. Her spirit was already full, and she was anxious to have a quiet moment to celebrate the lifting of the fear and burden she had carried for months.
Rachel extracted a check from the envelope and laid it squarely on the table in front of her. She couldn’t read it. Her tears were obscuring the numbers. She blinked several times to clear her eyes, but she couldn’t make out if the check was for $100, or $1,000. The zeros were a blur. So she read down to the next line where the amount was typed out in words. There, in Times New Roman, 12 point font, were three words that would change her life forever:
“ONE MILLION DOLLARS”
There is no way to describe what happened next. Perhaps an emotional implosion. Her tears, spontaneous and unending. She could not speak. It was like witnessing a butterfly emerge from the chrysalis of captive generations of family struggle. There was never a moment in Rachel’s life when her fists were not clenched around the anticipation of next month’s rent. She released her grip on the arms of the chair, only to find her face resting gently in her open palms, as she continued to cry. Perhaps good things do happen to good people.
Several months later, a receptionist from a successful cosmetics company and her daughter boarded a jet for a two week vacation in Hawaii. Just another millionaire taking a vacation.
If you are lucky enough to visit this company, Rachel is there today, answering phones and greeting all who enter. And she stands as the witness . . . that this is no fairytale! Merry Christmas!