I didn’t get her name, but she worked at the Java café at a strip-mall in Twin Falls, Idaho. She’s the young woman with the half-shaved head (other half dyed bright blue), the Joy Division shirt, and the dark black fingernails. The one who smiles warmly and looks intently at each new customer as they approach the counter.
The one who greets me, in turn, with the most joyful and genuine “Hi sweetheart, what can I get you?” that I’ve heard in a long time. She’s the one who immediately strikes up conversation as she’s making my drink. Conversation that’s real, between people actually listening to details and responding in kind.
The small stuff. That matters more than all else.
She’s the one who says it’s her roommate’s birthday, he’s getting old (32). That they’ll be celebrating with a new bottle of Patron, and it’s all good because she has the day off tomorrow. She knows all too well what it’s like to be unprepared and to celebrate on nights when she shouldn’t. So now she’s prepared, and she’s happy. You know why? Because “it’s Totally Tuesday, that’s why.”
Well, of course.
And on “Totally Tuesdays,” good customers get a free bag of day old muffins. Which means that I get a free bag of day old muffins!! (even though it’s my first time in the café)
Given that I watch every penny I spend, I feel like I’ve won the lottery. And I cannot stop the smiles.
Quite contented, with my afternoon cup of drip to keep me up all night and my pack of muffins to feed me for the week, I take a seat and begin to set up my computer…but it’s hard to keep focused on my work. Because this dynamic young woman behind the counter keeps bringing smiles to all.
To the next customer who places an order and responds to her sincere questions with equally genuine descriptions of his woes. The problems selling his house and the difficulties with everyone involved…all of which are mounting and making him depressed and tired. She listens with total focus and sincerity…and provides ideas about how he might cope. At the end of which, he thanks her profusely for allowing him to vent and for sharing such thoughtful solutions. “Sometimes it just helps to get it out and to have someone listen who really cares, even though you’ve never even met them before.”
To her male colleague who joins her by the espresso machine and doesn’t come close to matching her level of energy and enthusiasm. It doesn’t take him long to admit to her that he’s “feeling down.” And again, our friendly barista responds with complete compassion and concern: “Oh my goodness! Why? Was someone being mean to you?”
To which he shrugs his shoulders and murmurs what amounts to nothing.
“I’m sorry you’re not feeling well. When I’m sad, I try to isolate what’s wrong, you know? Like, someone might have cancelled plans, something might have gone wrong at work, or whatever. But I try really hard to focus on what it is that’s making me feel that way, so then I can kind of process it and figure it out.”
To which he tells her a sad story about love unrequited and feelings unreturned, and she responds with compassion and empathy through her own stories of loss.
And yet again, this one woman here at the Java café has put a smile on the face of another human soul. A beautiful thing to see.
And as I prepare to leave the café, I know that I want to express to her what I had seen. But how do you tell a random stranger that you’re amazed by their kindness?
Well, I guess just exactly like that.
After packing up my bag and heading for the door, I turn to face her at the counter.
“You know, I came here to work this afternoon, but I really couldn’t.”
“Oh no! Why not?”
“Because it was too much of a pleasure to watch you interact with people. You have such an ability to be present and to truly listen. Everyone you talked to was so enriched by you. It was amazing to watch. Thank you.”
And for the first time, I watch her struggle to find words as the smile takes over her face and the tears collect in her eyes.
“And…don’t ever stop.”
I see her feel what it’s like to be recognized for making a difference in the world. In small ways, dozens of times every hour. Here at this Java café in Twin Falls, Idaho.
And both of our hearts, along with all the others, are warmed.