Seeing the person in front of you
I was at an airport the other day. A bit early, I had some extra time before boarding, so I decided to get some coffee, sit in a quiet corner and read. I ordered and had a quick chat with the cashiers as they didn’t seem very busy either then went to get my coffee. The barista had just finished and handed it to me. I looked at her, smiled, and said “Thank you." Now, all this is very mundane, nothing exciting, so you might wonder why I am even mentioning it.
And you are right, it is mundane. But the reason why I am telling you is because of what happened next – the girl looked at me, smiled, and said “You are the first person today that said thank you.”
Let’s pause here. To give some context, it’s important to know that all of this happened in the Western world, a world that values time. It happened in an airport, a place where people often rushing to get on places, tired from a long journey or are maybe anxious or excited, depending on what is ahead of them. It is a place where different people come together, all with their own stories, burdens and feelings. That being said, none of them had thanked the barista for making their coffee that day. None of them had had time for common courtesy, to simply acknowledge the human behind the counter, the person who made their coffee.
This might happen less in a country outside of the Northern hemisphere – I don’t know, – but no matter the country, our lives seem to be busy. We are involved with Christian work, ministries, helping people – all of which is great. The work seems endless and there is always so much to be improved upon, so much still to be done.
In all that busyness, in the seemingly constant catch up-game of life and work, it is sometimes easy to forget the importance of the mundane, the importance of a simple thank you at an airport coffee shop.
The young barista, a 17-year old girl who is going to study international business and might one day be on the other side of the counter grabbing coffee before boarding a plane, is watching those ahead of her every day. She sees how they forget to say thank you, how they forget people in the busyness of their lives and she might think that this is the way to do it – that this is the way success works.
If we forget to say thank you to the people around us, in our ministries and in life in general, we teach them something. We teach them that as Christians, the work is more important than the person. Our reports tell about the number of things done rather than the person who felt appreciated, who felt seen and loved. Often those kind of stories don’t tell very well.
But those are the stories that matter just as much, if not more. Maybe I am the only one who needs to be reminded of this every now and again, but I want that barista to remember me just as I remember her. I want her to remember me as someone who took the time to say thank you, who took the time to listen to her dreams for the future, as someone who looked at her and saw her, and not just the coffee in front of me.