Thursday, September 19, 2013

Worth the wait

Earlier this year my husband instituted a weekly date night and charged himself with all the planning and coordinating.  Time with my handsome, sweet, funny hubby and no work involved for me?  Yes please!

Don't worry, this isn't a post about that kind of waiting. 

Felt like I needed to say that.  I didn't want you all to get the wrong impression when I lead a waiting post with a story about my husband. 

Anyway...

On our most recent date my husband took me to a local diner.

The place is quaint, antique signs hanging on the wall.  We situated ourselves in a corner booth.  My view was a tree-covered mountain outside the window.  Resting my eyes on a Kentucky mountain fills my soul like good food fills my stomach.  And with my eyes fixed on the scenery, I listened to the sounds behind me. 

The waitress's voice matched the mountain.  I grew up here and Kentucky twang was normal vanilla until I visited and lived other places.  Now it is pure, sweet music to my ears.

She called an elderly gentleman by name, joked about flies at a funeral and confirmed the order she already knew he wanted. 

When she made it over to our table we asked how big the hamburgers were, trying to decide between a single or double patty.

"Well, are ya hungry?"  We laughed.  One patty would be plenty.

I listened as the man visited with a lady seated near him.  They both grew up here.  They talked of their brothers and sisters.  Their parents.  Their spouses, now deceased.  I heard a sweet courting story and fought back tears to hear how it ended. 

Eyes on the mountain, it felt like home and happiness.  This culture, these sounds, these conversations, these views.  This is why I love Kentucky.  This and so much more.

When we made it to the cash register to pay, we were just behind the man we had heard throughout our meal.  He himself was hard of hearing.  With a smile on her face, the waitress repeated his total a few times.  He counted out dollar bills -- with her help -- and came up one short.  He took the money back, pulled out a five and asked her to take three ones from the stack he held in his hand to settle his bill.  She gave him change.

Putting his wallet back in his pocket, he realized he was missing a rubber band, and the young girl -- both waitress and cashier -- came from behind the counter to help him look.  Not for lack of diligence, they didn't find it. 

Only when the man started to walk away did she turn her attention to us, just as friendly. 

I couldn't help but check Mr. Regular's table on the way out. He left her no tip.  I'm sure she knew how it would be but offered him wonderful service the same.

I could tell story after story after story like this one.  And also story after story after story not like this one.

I enjoyed the waiting that night, but haven't always appreciated slow service.  Even when it has been the price for building relationships and honoring others.

I complain a lot about how much longer it takes to do just about anything here. But I've never complained about friendliness or about hospitality.  About neighbors willing to help.  I wait more, but I do it surrounded by people who smile and chat and don't get worked up.  Plans change on a dime if someone is in need -- and that someone can be anyone.

It's a great lesson for me.  I plan and rush and juggle and fight to keep up.  My schedule is my holy grail.  Not honoring it a grave offense. 

And like much of our American culture, I'm getting it wrong.  Progress should never come before people.  Advances and experiences mean nothing without people to share them with, and they definitely aren't worth devaluing others for. 

I have to remind myself that the fast-food workers hear my loud sigh when I wait for my order.  They can see me roll my eyes.  Shouldn't I use that time to engage those around me in meaningful conversation?  Or at the very least not be so passive aggressive?  And is a seamless ordering experience really worth it if I pick my number, swipe my card and get my food without ever even having to make eye contact?  Is that something that would make that equal human feel valued?

I get it. We wouldn't accomplish as much if we didn't pack as much into our day.  Checking e-mail while standing in line is great multi-tasking.  Fast service is a prerequisite for a busy life.  We can't just all hang out all day, every day. 

But I wonder if we've taken "efficiency" too far?  Or if we've inadvertently swapped relationships with amazing, wonderful people for amazing, wonderful products?  Has achieving modern convenience resulted in modern struggle?

How many problems would be solved if every single one of us was valued and embraced and honored with time by the whole community?  To do that would take sacrifice, but wouldn't it be worth it?

Or the real question: Isn't each person worth it?

...because the world of men and money and power hums along quite nicely on the fuel of fear and contempt and frustration and craving and the worship of self.  Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom.  The freedom to be lords of our own tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the center of all creation.  This kind of freedom has much to recommend it.  But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talked about in the great outside world of winning and achieving and displaying.  The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able to truly care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty unsexy ways, every day.  That is real freedom.  The alternative is unconsciousness, the default-setting, the "rat race" -- the constant gnawing sense of having had and lost some infinite thing.

-David Foster Wallace, This is Water: 2005 Commencement speech at Kenyon College