The first morning, we queued up at the counter, where the sullen hostess shoved a menu at us and blurted in a monotone, “You get a choice of breakfast, numbers one through five. Which one do you want?” When she glanced up to take our tickets, her eyes were dull and veiled, like the ocean when gray clouds dim its twinkling reflection.
I looked at the menu and said, “I’ll take the omelet. Can I get fruit instead of the fried potatoes with that?”
“Okay,” I said slowly. “Potatoes are fine.”
“What kind of bread do you want?”
“Oh, no bread, thanks. Just the omelet and potatoes, please. And coffee. Can I get some juice, too?”
“Juice OR coffee.”
“Um, okay. Just the coffee, then.”
After my husband had given her his order, she waved her hand at the half dozen empty tables and said, “Sit wherever you want.” Then she stumped over to the coffee machine, poured a cup for my husband and me and brought it to us without a word. When our meals were ready, she plunked them unceremoniously on the table in front of us and returned to her chair behind the reception desk.
“I hope we don’t get Ms. Sociable again,” I commented to my husband the next morning. But sure enough, there she was. Treading carefully, I ordered the same meal as before—with no substitutions--and moved towards a table. My husband paused, though, and asked her, “How’s your foot today? It looks like it hurts.”
I hadn’t even registered that she was wearing an orthopedic boot.
That tiny glimmer of kindness was enough to ignite a sparkle in her eyes and illuminate her face as she responded, “Oh, thank you! It’s not too bad. I landed wrong stepping off a ladder a few days ago, and I tried to get by as much as I could without the brace yesterday.”
“That’s got to be tough,” my husband commiserated. “You must be on your feet a lot in this job.”
“I am, but it’s okay. It doesn’t hurt too much till later in the day. My boss doesn’t mind if I sit down when I need to.”
“Sounds like you have a good boss,” he replied. “Tell you what, we’ll sit right here at the first table, so you don’t have to go as far. If we need anything we can just grab it ourselves.”
“Oh thanks, I’m fine. You guys can sit wherever you want. Your food should be up in just a few minutes.”
She set a cup of coffee on the table for each of us, then returned with glasses of orange juice. When she brought my plate, I found not just the omelet and potatoes, but a slice of melon and a couple of little strawberries.
Sullen and grumpy? Or hurting and barely hanging on?
God, give me eyes of compassion to look for the difference.