Friday, November 19, 2010

Life Lessons and a Side of Breakfast


Wisdom can often be found in the most unexpected of places--even when you're working (like me) as a part time busser for a restaurant. I was inspired to write this post after an experience I had a couple of weeks ago, where a stranger reminded me of how easy it can be to take things for granted--even that which we consider to be "everyday."

Whether you're abroad or on home soil, it's a reminder I'm hoping fellow travelers take to heart.

It started out just like any other busy Sunday morning: hustling back and forth with steaming pots of black coffee, wiping down a dirty table and greeting new customers with the specials of the day. Over the clang of silverware and drone of voices, a lone man stood out from the regular weekend crowd. Sitting at the smallest table in the back of the restaurant, he had a look on his face that appeared to be deeply introspective.

I was unaware of it at first, but with only a handful of exchanged words, this stranger would leave a powerful impression on me.

He wasn't the first solitary customer to come in and eat at the restaurant. But unlike others I'd waited on, he didn't downplay his presence with reading material or the classic, I'm-not-really-using-my-phone-but-I-need-to-look-busy act. Instead, he sat with a detached calmness, sipping his coffee and observing the ongoings of the restaurant activity. I was fascinated as to why (if you've ever worked in the restaurant industry, you'll know that people-watching becomes second nature).

As luck--or fate--would have it, I soon found out. On a routine stop by his table to refill coffee, I smiled and inquired as to how his day was going so far. American culture seems to generate instantaneous responses to this question, but he surprised me by genuinely contemplating the question. Not too bad, he finally answered. I took this as my cue to leave and smiled again, but his next comment stopped me.

Looking at breakfast with a new perspective
It was nice to have a last normal breakfast, he told me. There was no need to ask why; he told me he was leaving the next day for his eighth tour of duty in the Middle East and didn't anticipate things being "normal" for quite awhile.

I couldn't remember the last time a stranger had been so open and honest. I'll probably never know why he chose to eat alone that particular day, but the value he placed on on something as simple as breakfast will stick with me. The more I thought about, the more it resonated: here was a man, happy just to be around people, partaking of an ordinary ritual. Was it possible that such sincere contentment could be found over a plate of eggs and bacon? Apparently so.

It's ironic how easy it is to be blown away by the mundane. You'd think, as a traveler, it would be automatically ingrained to appreciate life's simple pleasures. Well, most of the time it is, but I'm only human and need a good reminder now and then (doesn't everyone?).

Without a doubt, traveling does gift you with a healthy respect for all the "little things" in life. It's up to you, though, to hold on to that appreciation. The world has so much to offer and oftentimes we can get lost in the lure of every new adventure.Taking the "everyday" for granted is not unusual, but it's also easily overcome. All you have to do is look around you. There is sure to be something--or someone--that will open your eyes to what is right in front of you. Who knows, maybe it will be on YOUR breakfast plate.