When I became a notary public I was working as an administrative assistant in the Ob/Gyn department at San Francisco General Hospital. Medical professionals handle tons of paperwork, so having a notary on site was a win-win situation: my colleagues didn't have to walk all the way down to 24th Street, and I got $10 per signature. What I wasn't prepared for was the other group of people in the hospital who needed my services.
I found myself notarizing advanced directives for people who were about to have sudden, major surgery from which they might not wake up. For a man who had crashed his motorcycle, I notarized a document allowing his girlfriend to get some of his things from his apartment. There was the young couple who had just survived a car accident, couldn't leave the hospital and needed my stamp to get their marriage license without having to appear at city hall. And then there was the woman, barely into her 50s, who was not going to survive the night. She wasn't expecting to have to get her affairs in order so soon. I signed and stamped her power of attorney.
People need notaries at transitional moments: births, marriages, the purchase of a home. In a county hospital, the transitions are different. I was privy to scenes that are usually reserved for intimate friends and family, but everyone was deeply grateful for the small part I played in making a difficult time easier. For patients without health insurance, caught in the bureaucracy that passes for our health-care system, an in-house notary is no small thing.
Last year I changed careers. I now manage the website for a small university in Oakland. It's a better fit than my last job, but my notary journal and stamp are sitting in a drawer in my desk, rarely used. To become a notary, you take a class, pass a test and swear an oath at city hall. They don't tell you that some of your signatures will be for people facing their darkest moments, and for the brief that you're with them, you'll know their lives.
With a Perspective, I'm Jesse Loesberg.
Jesse Loesberg lives in Oakland.