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The Starbucks lady's lesson

Mary Hasson

My odometer scaled a new peak--86,000 miles--as I, the soccer-mom equivalent of a cross-country trucker, crossed the border into North Carolina.  Again. Now don’t get me wrong, North Carolina’s grown on me.  It’s green and beautiful, the weather’s not bad, and the people I’ve met have been warm and hospitable.  The past two years I’ve been a spring and fall repeat visitor to the highly competitive tournaments here, pursuing necessary “exposure” for my college-bound players.

One thing’s for sure, as a soccer tourist I see a different slice of North Carolina than I do as an Outer Banks vacationer. And idle moments on field after field offer ample time to reflect on lessons learned in the Piedmont.

First, the Starbucks lesson.

A 6 a.m. wake-up call and my sluggish, caffeine-dependent body stubbornly insisted on a Starbucks. Fortunately, my internal Starbucks radar found its target (not so easy here in the land of “Biscuitvilles” and furniture stores). I rattled off my order --“grande, non-fat, extra-foam latte”--and plunked down some bills.  Then, like Pavlov’s dog, I surreptitiously--and compulsively-- started checking my blackberry, like I always do when I’m waiting at my Starbucks back in D.C. 

Inexplicably, I caught myself and looked up. Something was different. The Starbucks lady, for starters.  Not a tattoo or facial piercing anywhere. In fact, she was 60-some, with permed gray hair, a maternal bosom, and comforting smile.  And she was slow. Really slow, at least by my Washington-calibrated patience levels.

“Good morning!” she now said, as if my order had never been given. “Now what’s your name? Mary? All, right, now let me write that down, right here on this cup for you. ‘Grande, non-fat, extra-foam latte, right?’ I’ve got it honey.”  She paused, then smiled warmly and continued, as unhurried as if I’d pulled up a chair and leaned in for a good chat. “So tell me now, where y’all from? You visiting family?” Her calm manner gave her time to meet my eyes, to smile, and to make conversation.  60 seconds had elapsed and, cup in hand, she still had not finished putting my order in, nor had she taken my money.

But she knew my name and she wondered what brought me to her neighborhood. Her eyes saw me, not a generic customer. The point hit home.  What was my hurry? No line in front of me, no line behind. The game wouldn’t start for an hour.  More importantly, a real person—not a vending machine—was serving me coffee. A person whose daily work in life was less about pouring shots of espresso, and more about showing interest, kindness, and respect. She treated each customer as a person rather than latte #47 in a two hundred-latte day. Surely I could respond in kind.

It was the slowest cup of coffee I’ve ever ordered, but one of the fastest lessons ever delivered. John Paul II once said that women see others with the eyes of the heart. In one Starbucks in North Carolina, the loving eyes of a curly-haired, kind Starbucks lady awakened me from my sleepy self-absorption.  And now I could see.

Topics: Culture , Meditations

Mary Rice Hasson, the mother of seven, is a Fellow in Catholic Studies at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, Washington, D.C. She blogs at wordsfromcana.

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