Servants All Around Us

Share a bit of gratitude for those who make life brighter

As I pulled into the car wash today, I noticed the attendant, not because he did a fancy dance while wielding the spray gun, not because he was dressed like a blow-up dinosaur, he wasn’t, nor was it because he even acknowledged me — the woman embarrassed to be in a car with a disproportionate amount of road grime on it. I noticed him because he looked like sadness if it had been packaged and branded. His mouth was downturned, his eyes never met mine and if he had ever smiled, it was not in the last year or 10. He broke my heart. 

The best exercise I get is jumping to conclusions, and so I decided, before I’d really taken him in, that he probably immigrated to the U.S., that this was the only job he could get, that he mourned the people he left behind and the life of the high-powered executive he lived there. His sadness permeated me and if I wouldn’t have caused a scene, I would have gotten out and given him a hug — not a side one either, but a real, honest, 20-second or more, life-affirming hug. I think he needed it.

I would also have told him how much his work, the de-griming of my humble white rig, meant to me. On the way there, I had been daydreaming about a full-time, do-all-the-things life assistant. I envisioned someone to run my car through the wash, pair the socks and keep our fridge stocked with well-prepped vegetables. This person would not only do what I don’t want to do but he or she would also do these things before I even knew I wanted them done. Now that is a daydream worth sinking into. While I don’t have that assistant (yet), I do have, as do you, countless people who show up, every single day, to serve me. 

They are in the post office, the grocery store, the power plant, the offices, salons, schools, hospitals, and doggy day cares of our life. They are humble, faithful and, for the most part, dedicated to making whatever I am doing, better. They sit through customer service training, absorb ridiculous amounts of abuse, and make way less than they are worth, in every single category. They wash my windows, clean my carpets, sweep my streets and serve my food, almost always with a smile. And, if I’m being honest, with not nearly enough appreciation on my part. Thinking about this made me stop and reflect on how I show up for them. 

I try to offer a genuine thank you. I try to look them in the eye and I try to make their day just a bit brighter, with appreciation or a nice tip. But I wondered what it’s really like to serve, especially in the restaurant world. I’ve seen it and I bet you have too — the restaurant customers who demand attention, offer nothing but complaints and leave a mess. I asked a few women what it’s like to be a server now and what I found is that the stories I love to tell of the server who said, “Oh honey, can’t you just cut that end off?” when I showed her the rotten end of my baked potato or the one who told me, “I gave you lots of chips because we’re trying to get rid of them, they’re stale,” are the exceptions to the rule. 

The servers I spoke with LOVE their jobs. They LOVE their repeat customers, feeling like they are family, and they couldn’t imagine doing life any other way. One server, Sara, told me that when her customer didn’t show up two days in a row, she called for a welfare check. The customer was sitting on the floor, unable to move because of a stroke. Another receives, every single year, the nicest, most thoughtful birthday gift, from the man who only tips a quarter for his daily coffee. 

Joy told me that she prays for a handicapped child, who was berated by his dad, over and over and over, during a nice dinner out. She can’t get the little boy out of her head, even years later. Joy is also the server who told me that when she worked in a restaurant frequented by exhausted road warriors, her one goal was to make them smile. She did it not by flashing an empty grin or pulling a quarter from behind their ear. She did it by asking them about their hometown or if they were headed fishing. She did it by showing that she saw them, that they mattered. She always got the smile.

Isn’t that beautiful? Being a server isn’t just about the clean car or the warm meal. It’s about human connection. It’s about this journey that we take together, from the delivery room to morgue and every stop in between that is filled, absolutely filled, with those who act with kind hearts and big smiles to make sure we, as they often say, “have a nice day.” 

This was especially true when my dad was in a nursing home. My dad, for years, had gotten up at 5:30 a.m. and walked about a mile to have breakfast in his favorite café. Often, as dad aged, it was the only meal he wanted to eat. Now, my dad was one of those men that’s just handsome enough to look interesting, just funny enough to be endearing and just kind enough to seem like he was worth kindness in return. Dad would give any person anything they asked for — from his coat to his last piece of toast. When we moved him to a nursing home, we thought it was for a few days, maybe even just hours. As we sat, crying, wringing our hands, dad’s favorite server showed up with his favorite breakfast.

He did it again the next day, and the next. And then, as dad broke all of the predictions, he was treated to this breakfast he didn’t pay for, again and again and again, for several years.  

Who does that? Well, a server. This person who may not have dreamed that someday they would fill the role they are in, but by damn is going to do it in a way that makes them matter to the world. They are going to laugh at bad jokes they’ve heard dozens of times, slap straying hands and fill out paperwork when we don’t know how. They are going to watch over us because they have servants’ hearts and they know, at least I hope they know, that our world would be smaller, less fun, without them in it, doing what they do. 

If I were truly a kind person, the kind of kind person I should be, I’d go back to the car wash tomorrow, learn my sad friend’s name and shower him with praise, making sure his boss knew my car was cleaner than I thought it would be and my load was lighter because of his diligence with the spray wand. While I probably won’t do that and I don’t have a life assistant to do it either, I am going to be like Joy and pray for him tonight and tomorrow night too. While I’m at it, I will add Jimmy, and Ja, Ryan, Britney, and Tara, and Lynn, and Sarah, and, and, and so many others who make my life better because of their work. It’s the very least that I can do.    




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