The Calm In the Storm

by

Recently, my husband and I were getting ready to return home after a weekend business trip. After packing our bags and loading the car for the drive, we decided to check out the free breakfast included with the hotel room. We found the basic “continental” selections—donuts, sweet rolls, and coffee—offered little in healthy choices, so we decided to take our chances on a diner we’d noticed a few blocks down the road.

As we walked toward the restaurant entrance, we noticed a young boy about 4-years-old sitting on the sidewalk, crying. Occasionally he glanced up at his mother, trying to get her attention as she strapped his younger sibling into a car seat. The more she ignored him, the louder he wailed.

We quickened our pace and walked inside. It was packed, with a noise level to match. When we reached the hostess, I asked for a quiet booth. The hint of a smile touched the corner of her lips as she handed two menus to a server, who led us to an end booth located across from the kitchen, and directly in front of the restrooms.

While we looked over the menu, the wailing of three boisterous children a few tables down barely overpowered the booming speaker in the ceiling above us.

It was total chaos.

But instead of leaving, we decided to stay, hoping the restaurant would eventually quiet down,

Our server appeared, an attractive, twenty-something gal with pad and pencil at the ready.

“Hi, my name is Laura. What can I bring you?” She smiled politely, seemingly unaffected by all the activity around her. I detected an accent in Laura’s speech, and asked her where she was from.

“Poland,” she said. “I’ve been here for two years. It’s wonderful. I get to meet all kinds of people, and I’m learning more about this country every day. I’m so grateful to be here.”

She took our order, nodded her head, and disappeared into the kitchen.

As the children seated two booths away played drums on the table with silverware, we busied ourselves checking email and reviewing our schedule for the upcoming week.

Laura delivered our breakfast order, and while the food closely resembled our selections, let’s just say it fell short of our expectations. The kitchen was obviously busy and the cooks were pushing out plates as quickly as possible. Our eggs were burned and my husband’s well-done English muffin hadn’t seen the inside of a toaster. But with the constant slam of restroom doors behind us, and the building tempest of unhappy children a few booths down, we decided to make the best of it.

Laura continued checking in to make sure we had everything we needed. She offered comments about the weather, asked about our plans for the day, and if we were locals or visiting the area.

Our request for a pepper shaker brought a flash of embarrassment from Laura along with a quick apology. She refreshed the coffee, and like before, smiled as she immediately took care of our needs.

My husband had just ordered a coffee to go when a busboy carrying a large tray of dishes collided with the double swinging doors leading to the kitchen. With the piercing shatter of glass adding to the high-pitched cries erupting a few booths away, all eyes in the restaurant turned toward the sound and the frantic activity of servers side-stepping the mess as they scrambled to deliver their orders and keep clear of debris.

Laura reappeared with coffee, smiled and thanked us for the conversation, and left the bill.

It was time to go.

While my husband paid the check, I went to the restroom to wash up. That’s when I saw it. On the wall next to the towel dispenser, the manager had placed a framed collage of phrases and quotes. This one caught my eye:

As we left, I let the manager know how nice our server was, and how much we appreciated her attention. She nodded and said, “Oh yes, Laura is great, and very nice.” Then the manager apologized for the noise level, saying she wished she’d had a quieter place to seat us.
I told her our booth was perfect.

Laura offered us an important lesson that morning. She chose to present a helpful, friendly presence in a frenzied atmosphere, and it reminded me of one the true tests of maturity and character . . .

She maintained a positive attitude when she had no control over external circumstances. Laura’s personal performance was not affected by things she couldn’t change. Rising above the chaos, she focused her attention on her customers. And by choosing to remain calm in the midst of the storm, she made everything happening around us seem less disruptive, less important.

Our experience at the diner was just a little over two weeks ago, and yet, I can’t remember exactly what I ate for breakfast that morning.

But I won’t forget Laura, the young girl from Poland who is grateful to be here, with a wonderful job where she meets all kinds of people, and who is learning more about this country every day.

Keep it healthy,

 

Jill Reid
Kitchen Spirit