There’s a quiet dignity in just about everyone, if you look for it. In the faces of bearded men living on the streets, in the face of the car wash attendant scrubbing away at your windshield and in the Hispanic women bussing tables at your favorite Mexican restaurant.
You just have to pay attention to see them. If you look, they can teach you something—maybe even inspire you.
The man in front of me plopped the energy drinks on the counter and asked for a pack of Marlboro Reds.
“Long or shorts,” she asked.
It was almost eight p.m., and she seemed to notice the man, maybe in his early 60s, looked like he needed a hot shower and a good night’s sleep.
“Gonna be up late?” she asked, placing the two 16-ounce cans of Monster into the plastic bag.
The man grunted something unintelligible, as if he regularly dined on gravel and tree bark, and suggested he’d rather just make his purchase, and not conversation. He plopped a wrinkled twenty on the counter, pocketed the change, then almost snatched the bag from her hands. As the bell hanging from the glass door chimed his exit, I approached the counter.
“How are you tonight?”
“Oh, me? I’m tired. It’s been a long day. You just getting off work, sir?”
“Yes, ma’am,” I said, dropping two BareNaked energy bars onto the counter.
“Breakfast,” I smiled. “What time do you get off work?”
“Midnight,” she said, managing to smile through a groan. “Double shift today.”
“Wow, you’re gonna need to sleep late tomorrow.”
“Wish I could. Have to help one one son move out and another move in—then help my mother.”
The woman seemed glad to have someone to talk to. I had been into the MinuteMan more than a few times, but hadn’t seen her there before. The label peeling from her badge indicated her name was Dora. I laughed to myself and thought about asking her if she was an explorer, but thought she might not get the reference.
“Wow. One in and one out. That’s a big day. And you’ve got to help your mom? Do what?”
“She fosters animals. Gonna take a bunch up to the Target and see if we can find them homes.”
Something hit me when she said that—the way she said it more than what she said.
It had been a long day for me, too. But I was going home to bed and knew I would have Saturday to recover from the week behind me and prepare for the week ahead.
Something in Dora’s quiet dignity, shining through her fatigue, affected me—made me profoundly grateful for having more than enough and not having to face 16-hour days. It made me remember the words of the Everlast song, “What It’s Like”:
“You know where it ends, yo, it usually depends on where you start.”
I thought about Dora several times that weekend. While I was sipping iced tea, she was moving furniture, loving her sons and maybe even saving the lives of a few old dogs. I’ve thought about her when I’ve been tempted by discontentedness or mired in fatigue.
Since then I’ve tried to remind myself, if Dora could keep smiling through her fatigue, even with all that lay ahead of her that weekend, if she could greet people with kindness while scratching out a living at minimum wage, then perhaps I can too.
And it makes me even more grateful for where I started.
Author: Jim Owens
Editor: Toby Israel
Image: Andy Atzert/Flickr