We watched with open mouths as our four drinks slid off the waitress’s tray and onto the table. The four of us jumped up from our seats to get away from the streams of liquid heading our way. Immediately, our waitress started apologizing.
I suppose we had two options at that moment. We could make a big deal out of what was clearly an accident and make a scene. Or we could accept that accidents happen and not let it ruin our night out. We choose option two. “Don’t worry about it. Is it OK if we move to another table?” asked my husband while attempting to dam the flood with his napkin.
After we were settled in at the new table with new drinks and dry napkins, our waitress came over to us said, “Thank you for being so nice to me.” What’s sad is apparently our reaction was out of the ordinary.
What good would it have done to scream at her or berate her? Judging by the look on her face, she was just as shocked by the spill as we were. Nothing was ruined; no one was hurt, so there was no reason to make her feel worse than she already did. But these days, we all seem to have forgotten how to treat our fellow humans with kindness.
Although we frequent this restaurant, I had never seen this woman before. Maybe she had never waited tables and was nervous. Maybe she was distracted because of something else going on in her life. I had no idea what kind of day she had had before coming to work. Was she a single mom worrying about making her rent payment? Had her father just been diagnosed with cancer? Did she have a huge test coming up the next day at school? Or did gravity simply get the better of her for a second?
I wish I could say I was always so charitable in my thoughts and interactions with others. I wish I could say I never lose my temper or get frustrated with people. I’m human. I’ve let choice words fly when stuck in traffic. I’ve lost my patience when the man in front of me at the ATM seems to be refinancing his mortgage on the machine instead of getting the Quick Cash. I’ve made snap judgments about others based on a two-second interaction with them instead of giving them the benefit of the doubt and trying to get to know them. We get so wrapped up in ourselves and our own feelings that we forget to consider the feelings of the people around us.
Last weekend, as I was driving back from my sister-in-law’s bridal shower, I hit a huge traffic jam. I was trying to get home as quickly as possible in order to spend a few hours with my husband before he left on another trip. It was a horrible drive, with multiple accidents and incredibly heavy traffic. I was already running two hours behind schedule. So when the traffic came to a complete standstill about 40 miles from my house, what was left of my patience quickly vanished.
As we inched along, I watched the clock tick away and all I could think about was the time we were missing with my husband. My kids were tired and hungry. I was exhausted, and then I saw the reason for the hold up.
The day before, North Carolina had been hit with the worst tornado outbreak in recent memory. The twister had torn through the town of Dunn and crossed the interstate. My fellow motorists had slowed to a crawl to see the devastation.
From the highway, I could see homes that were smashed to the ground, nothing left but a pile of rubble. All of the pine trees had been snapped in half like toothpicks. Most spectacularly, every single fiberglass swimming pool that had been on display at the outdoor store next to the road had been picked up, thrown, and smashed into tiny pieces scattered across the fields.
It was horrifying. It was humbling. And I felt like a complete jerk. People in my community had lost everything—their homes, their businesses, and for some, their lives. And I was worried about losing time on the clock?
Talk about a wake up call to stop fixating on Me! Me! Me! I’m not the only person on the planet with problems. After seeing what could have happened, what I could have been returning home to, I stopped complaining. Suddenly, sitting in a traffic jam wasn’t as big an inconvenience as it had it had seemed a few minutes earlier.