Peace Begins With One Person

Ivory Harlow - San Antonio, Texas
As heard on NPR’s All Things Considered, October 30, 2006
Ivory Harlow

Working as a waitress at a Texas diner, Ivory Harlow meets all kinds of people. She believes the simple kindness and friendliness she offers to each of them brings a little bit of peace to the world.

Age Group: 18 - 30
Themes: community, peace
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I serve coffee at a counter-style diner in Texas. I often see a look of isolation in my customers’ eyes. They come in the front door, wander to the counter, pick up the menu, and look around the diner for something they can’t short-order: a connection.

In an age of online chat, online shopping, and even online school, it’s no wonder people come into the diner starving for human connection. Most of my customers can remember a time when the milkman came to their front door. As I serve up their eggs and bacon, they offer updates on their grandchildren. They ask me about the happenings in my life.

One day, I walked to the back of the smoking section to pass around a fresh pot of coffee. There was a woman who had been sitting in a corner booth for at least three hours. She asked me, “How much is just one breakfast taco?” I told her I didn’t know, that I’d never served just one by itself. Going back to the kitchen I thought about her rotted teeth and tired eyes, and how she’d consumed enough caffeine for three people already. I offered her a free pancake breakfast. I fibbed that it was a leftover from an order I had messed up. She asked to borrow bus fare and promised to return and pay me back. I handed over tip money from my apron pocket. She smiled a ragged grin on her way out the front door.

Three weeks later she returned my two dollars. She had gotten a job and a friend’s couch to sleep on. She offered to buy me breakfast on my break!

This kind of thing gets me wondering if something as simple as a short stack of pancakes can bring about a small shift in society. I’ll go even further: Can one act of friendliness start to generate peace? I believe it can. Peace begins with one person but spreads like warmed syrup. When I connect with my neighbors, they return it in kind.

So I believe in friendliness and an open ear. For me, it starts with making eye contact when I pour coffee and ask my customers, “How you doing?” and then listen to their answer.

My job is to take care of customers at the counter in a small Texas diner, but I also believe we’re in this world to take care of each other.

Ivory Harlow began working as a waitress after a tour of duty in the U.S. Air Force. She is studying for a bachelor’s degree in business administration. Harlow lives in San Antonio with her husband and dog, and enjoys writing poems and non-fiction.

Independently produced for NPR by Jay Allison and Dan Gediman with John Gregory and Viki Merrick.