Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Ponytail

It had been a morning full of frustration and delays, multiplied by lack of knowledge, perceived incompetence and my pride, if I’m completely honest. A quick meeting turned into an entire morning and as a consequence, an abbreviated lunch date. Those lunch dates don’t happen as often as they should and I’d had my heart set on Mexican, but the drudgery of the morning resulted instead in a quick trip to a nearby fast food restaurant.


We stood in line and ordered. As we waited, I headed to the beverage station, hoping to assuage my self pity and redeem the morning with sweet tea just the way I like it – half unsweetened, half sweetened. Even as I approached the station, I was mentally ruminating about how they likely would only have the unsweetened tea, as is often the case at this particular location. Sure enough, no sweet tea. “You have got to be kidding me!” I muttered.


Then I heard a kind, quiet, “Just a minute. I’m working on it.” She struggled to hoist the container of sweet tea high enough to refill the dispenser. Smacked in the face by my self-absorption, I quietly waited and said “Thank you” when she was done. “Oh, you’re welcome,” she replied.


As I ate my lunch, I saw her stoop down to pick up a few French fries abandoned under a table. As she walked past, the bounce of her ponytail struck me. Why? Because it was gray. Bouncy ponytails belong to darling little girls, beribboned cheerleaders, perky exercise instructors. And a woman – at or beyond retirement age – working diligently at her job in a fast food restaurant. Quietly going about her business, doing what needed to be done, taking care of impatient customers such as myself.


I wonder what her story is. What in her life led her to be working in what I imagine is primarily a thankless job? It would be nice to think that she works there by choice, to show teenagers that any job can be done well and to show customers like myself that life is not one-dimensional. My guess is that she probably works there out of necessity, to make ends meet, to care for her family, to stretch her Social Security.


As we left, she had moved on to cleaning the restaurant’s glass doors. We had to interrupt her work to leave. I said, “Excuse me and thank you,” and I hope she heard the genuine thanks. For she didn’t just give me my sweet tea, she stopped me in my tracks just when I needed it. She showed me grace I didn’t deserve. She showed me how to work hard when it seems like no one cares. She showed me how to serve.


So, thank you, lady with the bouncy gray ponytail. You matter. You made a difference.