Patrick Ward words, code, and music

Flipping the Baton

I decided to venture out into public today. My jaw seemed to have settled a little, and my cheeks weren’t as swollen as the day before. I was still hurting, but I needed a little time away from this hobbit hole I’ve been keeping as my house lately. So, I shaved about 3 days worth of growth off my face, put a clean, public worthy shirt on and headed out the door for a little R&R at the local Starbucks.

As I walked in the door, no one was at the register, but I could see a line of impatient patrons waiting for drinks. It’s hard to be a clerk in a store like Starbucks when you have throngs of twitchy customers watching your every move, their arms folded in anticipation, with eyes snapping back and forth between you, the drinks, and other customers. No one speaks. It’s an anxious place sometimes.

Having not been anywhere near a populated area for days, though, I was quite delighted to wait my turn, basking in the glow of human warmth.

There’s so much tension in our society these days. Everyone seems to be rushing off from one place to another. Even our cafes, modeled after the European cafes of old, have turned into centers of bustling take-out activity. So few stay anymore. So few stop to chat with the clerks or their fellow neighbors. They just stand there silent, hugging themselves and staring suspiciously at others. We’re like a nation of buzzing electrons, forced to keep moving for fear we’ll fall out of alignment with our chosen orbits.

As I stepped up to the register, I could tell the clerk was having a rough day, but he knew me by name and I knew his. He was finishing a little rant with his co-worker, something about how the word “hate” was what he really meant, and that it wasn’t even a strong enough word either.

When he was done, he turned to me, kind of half smiled and said, “Hi Patrick. The usual?”.

I nodded. But, then I added, “So what’s up Chris? You look upset?”

“Oh, you know, some customers! They just want to nit pick everything little thing. I mean, some are just never satisfied.”

So, we joked a little about the annoying habits of impatient people, about the silliness of it all. I then asked him how his school work was coming and how he’d found time to study and work full-time as well. His eyes brightened up with pride when I asked that. Before long, though, it was time for the next customer to take my place. So, I moved out of the way. But, as I walked to wait in the other line, I noticed he seemed a little more at ease. In fact, he was jovial with the next customer, even complementing them on what they were wearing.

So, it seemed I had inadvertently stopped the chain of events that occurred before me. Somehow, I turned it around and allowed the next customer to benefit from my own sense of good fortune. I had somehow spread a little cheer, just by being interested in the person behind the counter.

It felt good to spread goodwill in an otherwise keyed up store.

Now, I could have walked in with a scowl and an attitude. I mean, I had just spent the last three days holed up in my own dungeon, snacking on toxic pain killers and nursing a drilled up jaw. So, if anyone had a reason to flaunt a pernicious attitude and take it out on the rest of the world, I thought, it ought to be me!

In previous years, that’s exactly what I would have done. Back then, I had became quite adept at spreading my distaste for the world and letting others know about it. Fortunately, those days are behind me, just embarrassing little footnotes in my personal history now, no longer of interest in the chapters ahead.

I found it amusing that I could affect so many other people with such a simple gesture. It seemed like a lot of power. In fact, I realized, we all hold that kind of power in every connection we make with other people. Connections, it seems, are like relay races. Each time we’re given the baton, we make a choice as to how that baton is going to be passed to the next person. In this case, I chose to turn it upside down, and pass it on with kindness and compassion. How will you pass the baton when it’s your turn next?