Through the eyes of a child
We were standing in line at a Dairy Queen when my oldest son pulled on my arm. “I think there’s something wrong with her,” he whispered, nodding at the lady behind the counter. “I think she needs help.”
I glanced at the woman. She was in her fifties and very pleasant, smiling at everyone and hurrying to get people what they wanted. I could see she was tired, but other than that, she seemed fine. “We’ll talk about it after we get our food,” I whispered back.
The restaurant was packed, with the kind of crowds that highway restaurants get during the dinner hour, but it didn’t take too long for our food to arrive. We picked up our order, and I steered us to a table. We had ordered the food to go, but I guessed that my son wanted to talk about the lady while we were still close enough to help.
“Okay,” I said. “What’s wrong?”
“Her smile,” he whispered. “It’s not real. It’s like she’s faking it.”
Relieved, I nodded. “Not exactly,” I said. “When people have a job like hers they have to be nice to everyone, no matter what.”
“Even if they’re mean,” my wife added, “and a lot of people are.”
“And even if they’re not,” I said. “She’s probably been behind that counter for six or seven hours today. She doesn’t want to be there. All she wants to do is go home and see her family.”
“But instead,” my wife said. “She has to be nice.”
“So she smiles,” I said. “No matter what she might be feeling on the inside, she smiles.”
“That’s horrible!” my son said.
“Well, it’s better than not smiling, isn’t it?”
“I don’t think so,” I said. “She’s just tired. That’s all.”
“We always try to make a connection,” my wife said. “Try to say something that lets the person know we understand what they’re going through.”
Both my sons nodded, as if they were gaining some Deeper Truth.
“I just like to make them laugh,” I said. “That’s what I wanted when I had a job like that.”
Now lets flash forward several weeks to a McDonald’s here in Florida. The boys and I had just picked up our food. The lady behind the counter was in her late teens, sullen and angry, and barking at everyone.
“She was mean,” my youngest said as we sat down.
“Yes she was.” I said.
“Yeah,” my oldest said. “But at least she wasn’t smiling.”