“You are so gracious. Sometimes this is a person’s only interaction of the day. Some people have no support system. Sometimes public service workers are their support system. You are so gracious.”
The above was said to me today by a lovely woman buying a just a coffee. A medium coffee, dark roast, room for cream. I work in customer service. To be recognized as gracious is huge, to share such potent human connection in the brevity of a one item exchange is rare, and beautiful.
The woman spoke these lovely words to me in response to my customer just before her. He’s a regular, jovial, red-faced man who always calls us all by name. Despite the fact that we wear name tags, this is one of the politest, most kind and considerate things a person can offer someone who works in public service. It’s the simplest acknowledgement that we are more than just “service people” in their eyes. It’s so appreciated.
Anyway, this gentleman went MIA for about two months a while back. When he returned, he no longer purchased his one to two twelve packs of beer per day, and he no longer engaged us in the same sloppy but enjoyable conversation. He was more refined, cleaned up, less rosy cheeked. I overheard him telling someone else one day that he’d quit the drink. He’d likely been in in rehab for those couple of months. I felt so happy for him I wanted to hug him, but I’d been eavesdropping, so I just smiled and sent him light and love.
Not too long after, perhaps a month or so, the man started coming in rather red faced again. He was behaving his silly old self, and I was fearful he’d fallen off the wagon, if that’s what “they” call it. I must have been right, because not long after he disappeared again.
Today was one of the first time I’d seen him in a while. He bought a coffee and began chatting us up. It was slow enough to take some time to chat with him. As he spoke to my co-worker, the bit of backstory I’d been piecing together emerged. He’d been sober three months. He said when he started, he just couldn’t stop. Said he was that way with everything. Said he wished he were like me, tipsy on half a drink and happier to forgo alcohol altogether. I told him we all have our obsessions, our demons, and it’s up to us to keep them in check because no one else will understand them nor monitor them for us. I told him I’m proud of him, that what he’s doing is so strong, and that I support him. I asked his name, finally, after nearly two years of encountering him in all of his forms. I shook his hand. I told him to hang in there, and to keep it up, that we’re all rooting for him. I meant it, from the bottom of my heart. He’s fighting a battle many people lose, and he’s smiling all the way through.
This is what spurred the lady behind him in line to say the kind things she said. And here I’d been afraid she was irritated at me for holding up the line that had formed. I guess people surprise us more often than we expect. Positivity can be contagious, and preconceived notions can mold a situation, be a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s funny to me that things can happen in so many different ways. I could not have introduced myself to the man, or told him the things I’d been wanting to tell him, that fighting this fight is the greatest gift he could give himself. That he has nothing to be ashamed of. That what was once our most challenging vice can one day be the subject of our greatest accomplishment. Had I not said what I said to him, the lady behind him in line wouldn’t have said what she said to me.
The ripple effect.
They’re like dominoes, human experiences. A handful of words can knock the next few pallets down, causing a shift in the wind and toppling the standing, marbly pieces. Knocking into one another they tumble, one domino teaching the next how to fall.
I guess we’re all like dominoes, with our different patterns of dots, our different colors. No matter which place in line we’re given, we’re all just standing together and learning that it’s our graceful purpose to fall.