I must begin with an update on James, our music director, who was in a car accident a week ago last Saturday in which he escaped from a burning car and sustained smoke inhalation injuries. The doctors kept him heavily sedated and intubated for much of the week while they, for lack of a better term, vacuumed out his lungs. They called it a bronchoscopy. They were able to clean out his lungs and they began regenerating quickly. He was released over the weekend and is spending time with both his family and his in-laws. We are relieved and thankful.
On Sunday nights I work at the Durham restaurant my chef owns, rather than at Duke. From time to time, the house manager and I pass the evening by trading ear worms – those songs (usually bad ones) that get inside your head and won’t go away. You know what I mean:
we had joy we had fun
we had seasons in the sun
but the stars we could reach
were just starfish on the beach
Sorry about that. Really.
This morning, I was reading email and blog posts and came across what turned out to be a heart worm for me, if you will, because it has stuck with me all day. And that has been a good thing. The poem came from a post at Maggi Dawn’s blog and was written by Hafiz, a 14th century Sufi mystic.
Even after all this time
the sun never says
to the earth,
“you owe me.”
Look what happens
to a love like that,
it lights up the whole
Here’s why the poem bored in and stayed with me.
On three very specific occasions over the last week and a half I have had the same choice to make, a choice that is not easy for me. I’ve been standing in line – once at Petco (where the pets go), once at Food Lion, and once in Old Navy – and the line, from my perspective, was longer than it needed to be. The reasons were different in each case, yet some of the circumstances were similar: there were registers not open, other employees around. It ‘s the kind of needless inefficiency and inconvenience that drives me nuts. No – it makes me mad. I don’t understand why people whose businesses depend on customers don’t pay much heed to customer service. In most cases I can work myself into quite a state in the time it takes – usually a long time, it seems – for me to finally get my turn at the register.
To get what I’m owed.
I went into Petco to get a new harness for Ella, who chewed through hers – for the second or third time. She’s also chewed through five leashes, but they have a lifetime guarantee and the store keeps replacing them. Not so with the $30 harness. When I got to the front of the store, six people were already in line and the employee at the register was paging the manager. I was not close enough to hear what was going on, but we stood there about five minutes before anyone came to open another register. The rest of us moved to the other line and things were going along swimmingly until the guy in front of me pulled out a coupon the computer didn’t recognize. Seven minutes later, it was my turn.
At some point in the first line, I could feel myself begin to get, shall we say, edgy. I had some other errands to run. I didn’t like them wasting my time. (As if it were mine to begin with.) On this particular day, however, I had the wherewithal to hear another voice. I decided I had time to wait. I wasn’t going to let it get to me. Maybe it was the guy in front of me (that’s right: the guy with the coupons) who began grumbling and gave me some sense of myself. Maybe Hafiz’ poem was already working its way to me somehow. But I relaxed and the time passed quickly. When I finally got to the register, the man behind apologized for my having to wait.
“That’s alright,” I said. “It’s not like the last ten minutes were going to change my life.” He laughed; I did, too.
Then he handed me my receipt and said, “I gave you twenty percent off because you were kind to me. I wish there were more people like you.”
“You have no idea,” I wanted to say. I thanked him instead and wished him well, and I went on my way thinking I wish I was more like the me I saw in that moment, or at least more consistently me in the incidental interactions of life where I am most capable of feeling I am owed something. I have found myself in the other two interactions I mentioned. I haven’t gotten any more discounts, but the woman at the Food Lion did call me, “Honey.” Then again, I think she did that to everyone in the store.
“Look what happens to a love like that,” Hafiz wrote. “It lights up the whole sky.”
His words stick in my heart because when I allow love like that to break through me in the billiard ball moments of life, where we bump into one another and go our separate ways, I’ve seen how kindness can illuminate. I’ve also seen how hard darkness can fall when I choose to demand what I think is due me. Trust me, I know how to bring down a room. Tonight, with the poem close at hand, I found an old song by an old friend, Bob Bennett,
I’ve no need to be reminded
of all my failures and my sins
for I can write my own indictment
of who I am and who I’ve been
I know that grace by definition
is something I can never earn
but for all the things that I may have missed
there’s a lesson I believe that I have learned
there’s a hand of kindness holding me
holding on to me
I am not owed; I am the debtor. Here’s hoping my heart worm doesn’t go away.