The Buddhist, the Waitress and the Grumpy Old Man

Mary Muirheadservice

Listening to the CBC, I overheard a conversation with a young man who had just written a book. OK, there are lots of new books out there, but my ears perked up when he mentioned his Buddhist upbringing.

His family had stressed the importance of being helpful and useful to others; in fact, the message of his book was to point out the importance of our everyday contacts as we go about doing what we do.

I think we all agree with him; we know this. We have heard, and perhaps have ourselves told stories of kind words and understanding actions which have brought us a smile, provided huge encouragement, and sometimes given us the very strength we needed to pick ourselves up and go on.

We have perhaps made a point of thanking others for their kindness, only to find that they don’t remember what they said or did. And often, we don’t remember when we have been an encouragement to someone else. We are just nice people!

Sometimes, I don’t feel nice; sometimes, I’m too busy looking around for someone to be nice to me. Sometimes, I think back on an occasion when I withdrew physically or emotionally because I felt tired, overburdened, or just wrapped up in my own concerns. Sometimes, I don’t even see any opportunities to be helpful to others. I am perhaps looking for an attractive, gift-wrapped opportunity with my name clearly inscribed on it. It will, of course, be obvious, easy, exciting, and well within my comfort zone!

Which brings me back to my radio show. The young man was consulting a woman who felt she was not “doing enough” to help others. She felt she needed to make a larger commitment of some kind. She was, as she thought, only a waitress.

Then came the spiritual advice.

He answered in this vein, “Do you know that as a waitress you see more people every day than a professional counselor does. You have many opportunities to brighten someone’s day.”

I told this story to a particularly friendly waitress at a bakery where we have breakfasted fairly often, but we don’t really know people. Our waitress had her own story to tell. She had a customer who never smiled or laughed, no matter what happened. He would just sit and scowl as if nothing or nobody pleased him. She decided that she would change that, so she made sure she was always cheerful and pleasant around him, and he finally smiled and chuckled at something she said.

Another victory for the kind word “fitly spoken” which we are told is like unto “apples of gold in a network of silver”.

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