The Waitress’s Broken Pieces

Sam was a good waitress. But not great.

And, honestly, I used to get annoyed. I came to the cafe when it was quiet. Ordered the same coffee. Sometimes I’d never get water or a spoon or she’d forget my coffee altogether, see me, say, Oh my goodness. Coming! Other times, she’d take my order and disappear for 20 minutes.

One night, I came in. Sam walked to my table. I asked, in that routine, not too attentive way, how she was doing. And it was like some part of her broke.

She was in college, she said. And they’d ended her near total financial aid package. Mom had no money. Dad was gone. Sam was fighting it alone.

Then she shrugged and smiled a half-smile, as if she were picking up her broken pieces and sticking them together with whatever temporary glue we find in ourselves.

I told her I was so sorry. I told her I’d tip her the entire financial aid package if I could. And when she left for my coffee, I silently told her thank you. For reminding me that we never know where we find people in their lives. Or what universes they carry around inside them.

We each wear our pain in different places, don’t we? Each walk through the world with all the courage and grace we can summon in the moment. And sometimes, somehow, someone can break me out of a routine, not too attentive way and remind me of that.

Sam brought me water, a spoon, coffee well made. I tipped her all I had, a drop in the sea of what she needed.

And I left. With less money on me and a little more empathy in me.

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