While having an early morning breakfast at a New Jersey diner with a business executive several years ago, the two of us heard the waitress express her deep frustration with a customer: “I can’t believe that guy stiffed me! This is ridiculous! I’m so tired of this lousy job.”
Afterward, my friend on the other side of the booth grabbed the place mat under his plate, flipped it over and immediately drew a big smiley face with these words on it: “God loves you. May you have a blessed day!”
“I think I see a smile on her face!”
Then he took out a $20 bill as a bonus tip and folded up the paper to leave it for her. As we were departing, he tried to make this waitress laugh, finally looking over at me and saying, “I think I see a smile on her face now! Don’t you, Father?” The incredible thing about this story is that this business executive is in the midst of a terrible battle with cancer.
Recently I shared this story with a friend in the Chicago area, Jim Fair, and because he always makes an effort to be “that guy” who cares about others as he goes about his daily life, I thought he could shed further light on this topic.
“We’re so ‘connected’ with technology these days that we miss the person right in front of us,” he said. “I think I’m sensitive to this because I work from a home office, so most of my daily ‘human’ interaction — other than immediate family — is by phone, email, text and social media.”
He went on to share the following: “When I go out of the house on an errand or my daily walk, I look forward to encountering other people. I live in a small town, and nearly everyone I meet on the street says hello or at least nods. Of course, some folks are focused on their smartphones, which I find a bit annoying. The technology puts a wall between live humans. I see this a lot when I’m in line at the grocery or coffee shop. There is a live human being scanning the groceries or pouring the coffee — but often customers are on the phone and completely ignore the person who is helping them.”
He added, “As a small effort to counter this, I make it a point to engage every service person I meet in a store in friendly conversation. It can be as simple as asking how much longer the worker might have left on their shift and responding with a ‘Hang in there,’ or ‘Almost done — great weather outside.’ If I have a full cart of groceries, when I’m ready to pay I’ll ask the checker if he or she thinks I forgot anything, which usually gets a laugh. The point is to be present with the other person and most importantly, thank the person.”
When I traveled to Italy not long ago, my fellow travelers and I were surprised to see how long the customs line was — and we began to worry about missing our flight. Thirty minutes later, I finally arrived to the customs booth and was greeted by a yawning officer.
I joked with him, saying, “Looks like you need an espresso.”
He replied, “I could use a double espresso. I am really tired.”
I told him he should consider having an espresso machine installed in his booth. We shared a hearty laugh, and he definitely appreciated the brief human interaction that acknowledged his existence.
Simple stuff — but so important for so many people out there who receive so little love and personal attention in the course of their days. Allow the creative love of Jesus to touch their hearts though your warm and engaging presence!
Fr. Michael Sliney, LC, is a Catholic priest who is the New York chaplain of the Lumen Institute, an association of business and cultural leaders.