This I Believe

Elaine - Tigard, Oregon
Entered on September 25, 2007
Age Group: 18 - 30

I believe that a genuine “Thanks” can go a long way.

One day, I saw the crankiest lady taking orders at a Burger King.

“NEXT OVER HERE!” she hollered with the urgency of the end of a working day.

I thought, “Why is she here? I wonder if she’s a single mother with three kids and two jobs that make her stand on her feet until they hurt so bad she can’t feel them anymore. She goes home in grease so stubbornly stuck to her scalp that she just can’t get it out anymore, like the honorary badge of hard work that no one wants. What dreams did she have to abandon before she got here? And her kids — I wonder if they love their mother enough, so that her efforts here and everywhere will at least be worth the while. Maybe it’s a unique American experience, or maybe it an experience everywhere in the world, where life just grinds the soul out of you.”

When it was my turn, she stared at me with no intensity in her eyes. It was a weak, careless gaze that shows only half her spirit. I wonder where the other half is … far away, I hope.

I was determined to make her life better for at least one second, so I did what no one else in line did:

I smiled … from my heart.

I looked her in the eyes and smiled.

Then, the most amazing thing happened: her eyes brightened up! Her spirit came back for a moment.

And then, she smiled, too.

Do you know how sacred that moment was? It was a shared moment of temporary joy.

She turned around to the French fry machine. Maybe it was my imagination, but I might have detected something of a spring to her steps.

You know, maybe we all just want to be reached out to, to be understood and be respected for just being present.

She handed me my food.

I said, “Thank you very much!”

I thanked her for being there because without her help, I would have been hungry. I thanked her for struggling to live so that people like me can live to dream. After all, it is people like her that make the foundation of a society — work that is undesirable still must be done. So really, fast food workers, construction workers, janitors, … they are no better than I am, and I am no better than they are. We need each other.

Life is hard enough. If we can’t make it at least a little bit easier on each other, then what’s the point?

She smiled again. How she bloomed! And with a split second of hesitation, like she wondered if she was really meeting the first genuine person in ages, she said, “You’re welcome.”

“I can help whoever’s next!” she said, but this time much gentler.

Just a thank you with a genuine smile from the heart. This I believe.