I walked towards the register to put my drink order in when the man fumbling behind it looked up, his frantic dark eyes jolting me out of my caffeine deprived stupor. He asked me how I was doing and grimaced a bit as if in pain after hearing my standard “pretty good and you?” response. The words “doing fine tumbled from his mouth but his resigned body language and exasperated voice spoke something else, “please help.”
I glanced towards the other end of the counter where several people stood waiting; their angry looks telling me it was going to be awhile before the soy latte I was craving finally reached my lips. I reflexively felt impatient and a string of sarcastic comments started popping in to my head, just waiting for the right, passive aggressive moment to be let loose. I politely ordered my drink and went to join the others.
The man was obviously confused and with no else around to ask for help. What was tripping him up? Was it the mocha chai latte? Or the vente carmel macchiato? Or perhaps the half caf frappucino with a dollop of whipped cream? Coffee drinks and their stupid sounding names have certainly become ridiculously complicated these days but seriously, the man has the green apron on, doesn’t that mean he knows what he is doing? They don’t just let anybody wear that, right?
Time sort of stopped for me then and I realized something more was happening. A choice was being placed before me, I could do what’s familiar and spin my mild annoyance in to a fuming rage, imprisoning myself with toxic thoughts on how MY needs aren’t being met, or I could drop the drama and be completely open and receptive to the gift God wanted to give me.
Look at the man Tricia, really look at him. He was now darting around back there, opening and closing cupboards with abandon, searching for something, anything that would get him out of this situation. Occasionally he would look up, no doubt to see if the angry thirsty people had magically disappeared. Handsome, with jet black hair and brown skin, he had that movie star look, the troubled hero type from a Quentin Tarantino movie but without the steely resolve and confidence. He was broken and all I could sense was fear, embarrassment and extreme shame. My heart ached for him.
Something shifted then and this one dimensional, stumbling employee holding up my day, turned in to a real person with his own share of life’s hurts and problems. I felt an overwhelming sympathy for him but not in a pitiful way. I was experiencing his humanity fully in that moment and his trauma as my own trauma. I went deeper and wondered what brought him to a job normally done by kids half his age? Did he get laid off? Did he have a family to support? Was someone ill?
There was nothing I could do physically to help him, Lord knows me hopping over the counter and commandeering the espresso machine would have been nothing short of a disaster. Just relating to the man though as a fellow human being helped, at the very least by not contributing to the tenseness of the moment. More so I think by preventing my selfish needs from getting in the way of me treating him with the respect and dignity he deserved.
It’s a true freedom like no other when you can experience events just as they happen and share humanity with another person just as they are. It’s a gift, for sure one that gets bigger the more it gets shared.