Friday, October 26, 2012

A Grace of Which I Am Incapable

I was in line at Starbucks.  Behind me stood a tall, young woman dressed in scrubs.  The place was buzzing with its usual sounds of grinding coffee beans, the whir of freshly brewed espresso, and the baristas shouting out names of happy recipients of a morning pick-me up.

I looked down the long line of quiet anticipation towards the register, most people surfing their smart phones or eyeing the new holiday line of coffee mugs.

Move people,  I thought.  I had been awake less than 10 minutes and stood there, crankily, in my pajamas.  The sooner I can get that Venti Americano in my hands, the sooner I can become the lovely pleasant person I want to be.

Just then, a vigorous tap on my shoulder and a voice that immediate pierced me as obnoxious,  "Did you want to use the restroom?"

I looked back and short and stalky woman with short gray hair and glasses was standing behind the woman in scrubs and staring inquisitively at me.  I can't even remember if I answered verbally, I had no idea what she was talking about.  I can say that I at least shook my head, but I quickly turned around and imagined an invisible force field all around me that would keep anyone else from talking to me.

"You going to work, hon?"

I could hear the smile in the young woman's voice as she replied to the old woman's attempt at small talk, "yes I am a nurse."

"Oh.  Well I just drove all night from Sedona.  I came here to find my ex-boyfriend who just got out of jail.  I've been driving all night, thinking about how I'm going to find him.  You know, I'm 65 years old, that's a long drive and I'm on my last penny.  Do you live here in Santa Barbara?"

"Yes."  The smile was fading and there was a quiver of discomfort in her voice.

"Yeah, I'm hoping to find a place to settle down soon.  Not here, though, it's way too expensive.  And, you know, I'm 65 years old so I can't get no job or anything.  My ex boyfriend, he was using drugs you know and..."

I can't continue describing the dialogue, because this is the point at which the words lost content and translated to my ear and what little patience I had as nails on a chalkboard.  Her voice rattled on like this for 10 straight minutes, and regardless of her story it all sounded like this:  "Me, me me me me, me.  Me me me me me.  Me."  It was, quite possibly, the most annoying and one-sided conversation I have ever heard.

Shut up! I thought.  Shut up, shut up, SHUT UP!  At one point I glanced at the young woman and noted the smile was completely wiped from her face.  She looked exhausted.  I got stuck in a moment of deep empathy for the poor young woman who probably just wanted to be left alone like the rest of us, and I thought about all the possible ways - from polite to hugely rude - I could get this woman to leave the poor girl alone.

Then, the moment we were all waiting for, "I don't have any money, I just spent it all on gas.  Do you think you could be so kind as to buy me a coffee, dear?"

The young woman paused to look down at the gift card that she had nervously been tapping onto the palm of her hand.  "If I have enough on here, sure."

Though I was mostly focused on being a mere 3rd in line at this point, I couldn't help but notice that the old woman responded to the kind offering with a prayer.  She prayed for herself (of course) but, shockingly, then prayed for the young nurse.  She thanked God for people like her that take care of others, and asked God to take care of her.

At long and triumphant last, I made it to the register.  After I had ordered and paid, I looked up at the register next to me, where the young nurse was handing the old woman a cup of coffee.

"Have a good day," said the nurse politely as she headed towards the exit.

"Wait," replied the old woman, "where's your coffee?"

Again I saw the nurse pause and look down at her gift card with longing.  Soberly she looked up and said, "I didn't have enough on here for both of us."  And with that, after waiting in line for 15 minutes on her way to work, she hustled out the door empty handed and without another word.

The room seemed to suddenly quiet and slow down as I became enamored by a grace and patience that I, simply, do not have for others.  If I had to walk away that morning without a coffee in my hand, after all that time and soul-sucking conversation, I most definitely would have cried.  At that moment I knew that, if I had to choose, I would have chosen me.  But the nurse chose the old woman, and something about that pierced me with a longing for that type of grace.

"Venti American for J.J.!" shouted the Barista.  As I got up to pick up my coffee I heard a familiar voice to the left of me.

"You going to work, hon?"

A dark-haired woman wearing a tweed red sweater and black pants lit up with a bright smile and politely replied, "yes I am, are you?"

"No, actually I just drove all night from Sedona.  I came here to find my ex-boyfriend who just got out of jail.  I've been driving all night, thinking about how I'm going to find him.  You know, I'm 65 years old, that's a long drive and I'm on my last penny.  Do you live here in Santa Barbara?"

The last thing I noticed as I walked out the door was that bright smile beginning to fade into pained discomfort.