On Being A Not-Very-Patient Waiter*

Here is my process for choosing a grocery store checkout lane.

  1. Consider the length of the lines, of course.
  2. Look through the contenders to see what other complications might arise:
    1. the amount of stuff still in the cart(s)
    2. the likelihood of a dreaded price check
    3. kids, more than one
    4. a single child, but whining
    5. elderly
    6. coupons, for goodness sake

    And then this key consideration often missed by the general population:

  3. Assess the speed, aptitude and focus of the person doing the checking out AS WELL AS the person doing the bagging. (I could do a seminar on that one.)

It’s a practice I’ve honed through decades spent thinking Must Be Nice To Have All Dang Day.


Then at the beginning of this year, a rather strange thing happened to me. After a quiet Christmas holiday, I made the decision to move through my day with intention. That is to say, every time I felt in a rush, rather than going faster, I purposefully did the opposite.

It worked for a while. And then expectation and complication intervened and my grand commitment to intention nearly evaporated—with one significant exception. Now when a true obstacle is in my path (ie I’m stuck behind a logging truck), I can hear God’s voice saying Girl, Why Don’t I Help You Just  Slow. It. Down.


Just last week I ran into the grocery store, a stop I crammed into an already over-scheduled day. Not surprisingly, I was strategic in my choice of quickest exit lane. The woman just in front of me? Checkout line perfection.** Alone. Organized. Not interested in Jennifer Aniston’s ridiculously large engagement ring or award-winning crock-pot recipes. No coupon or cell phone in sight.

My cart and I pulled right in.

Things moved along perfectly, system working well as I quietly considered this woman and her grocery selections. And then with no warning, there was a minor complication in the scan-scan-scan process. And then another.

I could feel a twitch rising.

And just like that there it was, God’s voice reminding me to breathe, to relax, to simply wait. And so I did.

Eventually, the checkout process was complete. But before moving to follow her cart to the car, this thoughtful woman—with whom I had not even exchanged a glance—turned to me and said:

Thank you for being so patient. You have been a bright spot in my day.

I gave her an understanding smile, knowing it was true, knowing her life as well as I knew mine in that moment, busy, complicated, stretched. I thought about how little had been required of me; how I simply stood there conscious of the fact that she just needed a tiny bit of time, a tiny sliver of space.

And I considered the lovely gift she had given me in taking three seconds, precious as they are, to turn back and offer her thanks. What a lovely gesture, I thought. How unexpected. How nice.


*This is a 2-part post, as it turns out. More to come tomorrow: On Being Insanely Nice

**Checkout line perfection, actually: Male; 55 years old; slim, athletic build; shopping solo; buying imported beer, 6-pack

1) Living with intention.

I scored a long Christmas holiday from work this year—10 days, in fact—and enough time to ultimately reach that glorious what day is this? mindset. Travel completed, house de-decked, I began to wind my way through the hours, taking long look how pretty the clouds are today breaks as I cleaned out the massive accumulation of stuff beneath my bathroom sink.

There’s something really beautiful about allowing yourself that much time for a task that mundane. With every find, I opened and rubbed and smelled before deciding STAY or GO—including the rather massive collection of tiny shampoo/conditioner/lotion bottles I have amassed. My husband and I have differing views on hotel toiletries; he finds it silly that I even bring those plastic containers home. Fine, I think, you who will wash your hair with deodorant soap and not think twice about it.

Anyway. I cleaned the closets and organized my desk and created new files, including an entire ELIZA/COLLEGE section. I did the laundry—including the hand washables—and trimmed the herbs and mulched the garden and planted an entire new bed of smiley pansies. (That made me very happy.) And then January arrived, and it was time to go Back To Work.

This was my thought as I exited our neighborhood, pulling my SUV into the mad rush of The Holiday is Over traffic. Was it possible to hold on to some semblance of the calm I felt in those last days of vacation? Could I carry peace with me? What would happen, I wondered, if I unsubscribed to my own DO IT RIGHT NOW lifestyle, and instead, slowed down? 

I flipped on the turn signal, choosing a longer, but prettier, route to work. For an entire 15 minute section (quite miraculously) there was not a single car behind me to apply let’s-just-get-on-with-it pressure. And so I drove along unencumbered, immersed in the audiobook tale of the charming (and surprisingly spunky) Elfida Phipps in Winter Solstice, marveling at the elegance of the bare winter trees lining the roadway.

Could autumn be any more glorious?

My day proceeded accordingly. Each time my email pinged or a meeting alert sounded, I resisted the urge to jump. I just might be on to something, I thought, as I walked with intention, slowly, measured, on my way to my car at the end of that first day. Perhaps control lies within mein the way I go about my day.

I carried it through to Day 2, and then Day 3. Every time I felt the pressure rise, rather than breaking into sweaty run (literally or figuratively), I did the opposite. I slowed down.

Tomorrow will be Day 4. So I must say, there is not conclusive evidence of my theory. But it is looking promising. And that, my friends, is enough for now.


I’m thinking of a January filled with Do-Overs, Rethinks, What Ifs. Want to come along?