Dear Lady Behind Me at Starbucks

Dear Lady Behind Me at Starbucks,

I see you there, with your screwed-up face and your well-coiffed hair and your impatient gesture each time someone in the line in front of you dares to order one more thing. I see you glaring at the baristas like they are doing nothing about the line-up of weary travellers on this side of the counter. I hear you muttering about how inefficient they are and complaining that their only skill seems to be in growing the queue.

I try to appease you with an “it’s not that bad” comment. “Yes, it is,” you reply, as though I couldn’t possibly know what I was talking about. As though this wasn’t my second time waiting through the whole line, since the British debit machine at this airport Starbucks didn’t accept any of my Canadian cards and I had to go exchange currency just to come back and pay for what I ordered. As though no one else is also tired from long flights or hurrying on to connections.

I say nothing. I try to give you the benefit of the doubt. I guess you are probably tired, too. Maybe you are not always this way. But something tells me you might be—that you are from a place where they hand you your preferred order when you reach the counter, and if you had to wait for even five seconds for an Internet page to load you would complain to the company (never mind the speeds I have endured that have allowed me to knit entire rows while waiting.) Maybe you live in a big city like New York where you feel you have to be aggressive or you will become a victim, where if you don’t rush through the left turn on a yellow light you may not ever get through, and where your every moment is scheduled to brittle rigidity with no room for error.

The barista at the till (the only one on cash, which does seem to be the bottleneck in the process, though she is serving each customer admirably) calls me forward, and I see you out of the corner of my eye, with another eye roll and irritated wave of your hand and a huff, like you can’t believe they would dare to serve me before you. And when I step away, I cringe at the tongue lashing you unleash on that poor girl behind the till.

Have you ever been on that side of the customer service desk, Lady Behind Me at Starbucks? Have you ever had to deal with people who are tired and hungry and caffeine-deprived, maybe stressed out over lost passports or that precious item that the security officer took from them as “not allowed,” or sad at the parting they just endured? Have you had to do it day in and day out, smiling as though your livelihood depended on being cheerful and kind and friendly—because it does? Have you ever had to endure an unjustified and unfair tongue-lashing spurred by the inflictor’s impatience, although they blame it on your incompetence?

Perhaps you have, and that is where you learned such high expectations and such little patience for error. Sadly, I have seen some of my customer service compatriots behave the same. Too bad that your own experiences (whether at the hands of angry customers or perhaps angry caregivers as a child) did not teach you to extend grace instead of emulate grouchiness.

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As sorry as I felt for the poor girl behind the till, I actually felt sorrier for you, Lady. The stress you cause yourself by becoming angry about something you can do nothing to change harms you more than anyone else. Sure, you can inflict a little pain by your critical attitude and sharp tongue—but she has heard it before and I bet your comments won’t disturb her for long.

You, on the other hand, spent half as much time in that lineup as I. But while I was looking around and enjoying the view of the fogged-in London airport and the many interesting people, appreciating the architecture and art and anticipating both my Grande English Breakfast Tea and arriving at my final destination, your stress hormone levels were through the roof and you missed out on all the little wonders that surrounded us, even in that queue you despised.

Still, I give you the benefit of the doubt. I have struggled with depression. I have experienced loss that made me intolerable to myself, let alone how I behaved in public. I know there are all kinds of reasons why you could have behaved that way, and that you were probably not really yourself in that moment.

My only hope, dear Lady Behind Me in Starbucks, is that whatever it is that you are going through helps you learn this lesson:

Kindness is never wasted.

We are all on our own hard journey, and we have no right to make other’s journeys harder to bear because of the burdens we are carrying. I pray, dear Lady, that you not only realize this, but that there would be others who would come alongside you that see past your current prickly demeanour and show you how to do something about it.

I only wish that I could have figured out a way to show that kindness to you in our few moments together. Only I doubt you would have noticed, such was your tizzy. But could I have tried harder?

We are all on our own hard journey, and we have no right to make other’s journeys harder to bear because of the burdens we are carrying.

I guess that’s why I’m writing this, my dear. Because even though you may not ever lay eyes on these words, we have all been you at some point. I was much like you for many years, and once in a while, I see your eyes looking back at mine from the mirror.

I hope I remember, the next time the Lady Behind Me at Starbucks manifests in me, that kindness goes much farther than anger, gentleness gets better results than impatience, and that I will always feel better if I have brightened someone’s day rather than darkening it. That kind of sunshine can’t be contained—whenever you spread it, some always sticks to your hands like lemon syrup and makes your day a little sweeter, too.

So, dear Lady Behind Me at Starbucks, I wish a sticky-sweet dollop of patience in your coffee today—I already know you received it from the girl behind the till. May it seep into your pores and be absorbed into your flesh and adhere to your bone so that one day, you too will go from being the Lady Behind Me at Starbucks to the one wondering how to teach the Lady kindness.

Because while we all have the potential to manifest the Lady, we can also manifest the sunlight, too.

Spread love. Show kindness. Live with joy.

Hi, friends. How are you today?

Jet lagged and caffeinating at Heathrow Airport, October 30, 2016.