With permission, I am re-printing a story written by my friend Teri Goggin-Roberts. I heard it this morning at services held at Circle of Miracles, which is an interfaith community in Doylestown, PA. It is my spiritual refuel for the week, a haven in which to offer and receive sometimes sanity saving energy. The tale was read by Rev. Bob Goodwin as a ‘Spiritual Seed’ which is a feature of our celebrations. May this one take root and grow in your heart and mind.
“At the risk of stating the obvious, it looks like the holiday season is in full swing. Parking lots are overflowing with traffic and normally organized store shelves look ransacked.
Watching all the hustle and bustle this week brought back a memory of a holiday season from long ago. I was sixteen and working as a waitress in a department store restaurant. (Yes boys and girls, before malls had food courts many department stores had restaurants where tired and hungry shoppers could refuel.)
It was my first real job and although I’d been working at the restaurant for months, I was totally unprepared for the insane lunch crowd on the Saturday before Christmas. A line of people waiting for tables snaked out the door. The hostess looked frazzled. Bus boys couldn’t clear tables fast enough and the kitchen staff was grumpy.
My head spun with customer requests… more coffee, no mayonnaise, wheat, not white. I prayed that I could remember it all. On top of everything, the kitchen was so overwhelmed that orders seemed to take forever. I spent a lot of time soothing the tempers of both customers and cooks alike as I ping-ponged in and out of the kitchen.
One man in particular had been waiting for his club sandwich for a very long time. He’d already finished soda refill number two so I couldn’t stall much longer. Finally, his order appeared on the shelf in front of the sandwich cook. I grabbed it and rushed out of the kitchen. Before delivering the food, I decided to bring a third refill so the man would have everything he needed to enjoy his lunch.
I wove my way to the man’s table and put the plate in front of him. And then disaster struck. In my haste to put down the soda, I somehow knocked the (completely full) glass onto the plate.
Over 30 years later, the image of a club sandwich swimming in a pool of soda remains etched in my memory. Words failed me. I stammered an apology and waited for an angry response that never came. The man ended up comforting me!
Red faced and shaky, I cleaned up the table and rushed back to the kitchen. How could I ask an already overwhelmed cook to remake the sandwich? Immediately.
Maybe it was the crazed look in my eye, or the near hysterical tone of my voice, but Gerry-the-sandwich-cook made that sandwich again in record time (God love him). The man finally ate his lunch and left without further comment.
I learned a lot about communication and organizational skills as a waitress. But I also learned something else. On that terrible-horrible-very-bad day, I received the biggest tip of my life (nearly twice the amount of the bill). From who? The club sandwich guy.
His loving act of compassion and kindness still tugs at my heart decades later. It wasn’t logical. I didn’t deserve it. He had every right to be upset but instead of anger, this man gave me empathy, understanding and comfort – the greatest gifts of all.”
In my 20’s, while in college and in between college and grad school, I waited tables and know firsthand the hectic pace at which food is prepared and served. Some of my performance anxiety nightmares have taken place in restaurant settings. One time I dreamed that I was responsible for waiting on an entire dining room by myself….YIKES! I woke up relieved in my own bed, knowing that it was time to relinquish such high expectations for myself.
For the most part, in my waking state server role, customers were patient when their order got backed up or mixed up. When offered with love and intention, food just tastes better. Knowing Teri as an adult, I can imagine how her light shone through her head spinning overwhelm. The cook and the customer must have seen it too and stepped into their roles in the play that had her ultimately recveiving that big tip; and not just in financial form. It was a potent reminder for me that we are all at God’s table, feasting on our spiritual sustenance. I sense that it is what we all hunger for. Good thing the ‘kosmic kitchen’ is open 24/7.