I sat in the breakfast room of a little inn.
It was the only spot I could get internet service, and I needed to do some work. But with my computer and my notepad, I must have looked in charge because people kept on coming in and asking me questions.
I’m here to clean the chimney and – began a man with a clipboard.
I’m just a guest here, I cut him off. Then put my head back down into my work.
Well, you be a guest! he said in a gentle, jovial voice.
Then a woman in a tracksuit came in: I stayed in this downstairs room, she said, and I left my shoes there, have you seen them?
I haven’t seen your shoes, I said, (and, I thought to myself, they are not my problem). I’m just a guest here, I told her. Then I put my head back down into my work. She apologized for bothering me and left.
An older man came in. YOU’VE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME, I thought. Will the annoyances never end?
Hi, the man said. I’m in the room upstairs and I can’t figure out how to get the coffeemaker to open.
I’m just a guest, I began. Then I stopped. I’d worked coffeemakers. I could probably figure this out without much effort.
I’m just a guest, I said. But let’s take a look.
We walked to the coffeemaker. I read the instructions aloud. He fiddled with it. And the coffeemaker opened.
Great! he said. I get up early, this is essential. Thanks.
And as he left the breakfast nook, I felt something like kinship. He and his coffeemaker had moved me from, “Not my problem,” to, “Let’s be in this together.” Which felt meaningful, like I was part of a greater whole.
If I could do it again, I would try to help the woman find her shoes. I would give the proprietor’s phone number to the man who came to clean the chimney.
But I couldn’t. So as I turned back to my work, I thought, Maybe all those people were opportunities for human connection masquerading as annoyances.