Bussing tables, cleaning dishes, cleaning the bathrooms were all hard work and I wasn’t the biggest fan. But I had no problem doing what I was supposed to. When others didn’t do their job, however, it made me bitter. There was one waitress I particularly disliked. She was slower than everyone else, never bussed the plates from the tables, didn’t seem to notice when people spoke to her, and always seemed to be asking for help but never covering for others. I truly detested this lady. I did everything I could to avoid her. It was an accident that I ever talked with her.
Late one day, when few people remained in the restaurant, she sat down in a table I was bussing, put her head in her hands, and sighed. I asked her, somewhat dismissively, what was wrong. It turned out she had an amazing story. Her son was blind, and she was trying to save up enough money to move to Nashville so he might attend the Tennessee School for the Blind. She was working 16 hours a day and on weekends to make ends meet. She never got sleep and hardly ever got to see her son. Every now and then she just had to sit down. It was difficult to keep going.
They say don’t judge a book by its cover. If ever there was an example, this was it! What I had taken for laziness was sheer fatigue. Her slowness to respond was not stupidity but drowsiness. For two months, I had targeted this lady as lazy when in fact she was the hardest worker in the restaurant. There, in the Perkins Restaurant in Memphis, Tennessee, was a virtual saint, working without rest so that her blind son could have a chance!
And as for me? I had been complaining about how tough my job was when every day I went home to a lovely house in the best part of the city. I had no concerns; I was just making extra spending money. How could I possibly ever complain again?
Once you’ve come to view life through the eyes of another human being, your own perception will never be the same again. I learned how lucky I was that summer. And as I realized how privileged I had been, I wanted to do what I could to help others.
Things changed at Perkins. Now, suddenly, I wanted to help out this waitress however I could. It became a pleasure to take the plates from her tables or to attend to the needs of her customers when she fell behind. Soon, realizing just how privileged I was, I began to do the same for all the waiters and waitresses. I would do things that weren’t in my job description, always watching the back of the other workers. I looked forward to going to work every day. Once my emphasis was on helping others and not myself, I found that I had more energy and could always give 110 percent. I was doing the same job, but with my newfound mentality, it became a real joy.
Once I approached work with a positive attitude, I began to befriend all the other workers. Within weeks I had people smiling at me in the morning saying “I’m so glad you’re here today.” Who would have thought? The spoiled rich kid who had been reviled upon his arrival had become part of the team. I was even given special recognition by the Perkins national board of trustees for my positive attitude.
We can draw many things from this story-lessons about not judging others, understanding our privilege and the benefits of a positive attitude. But I think the best thing we can all get from this is to listen to others and keep our own lives in perspective. Life is hard, and we all face troubles. It’s easy to feel sorry for ourselves, but don’t let that happen. Count your blessings, not your woes. Then, looking cheerfully upon your own existence, go out with a smile and make someone else’s day better.
When I returned to Perkins the next summer, my waitress friend was gone. I don’t know what happened to her, but I’d like to think she made it to Nashville, and that today her son is receiving the top-notch education that may one day bring him to join us here at Amherst. There’s no way to know, but with the right perspective and a positive attitude, anything is possible.