Just Four Words

There are times when you just do not know what to say.  I found myself in one of those situations awhile back.  Working in retail your daily life can be fairly routine.  Almost like clockwork, the same customers come in every day wanting the same order every time.  There is little deviation.  However, every once in a while, someone comes in that gives you a surprise.

A customer came in asking about the balance left on his gift card.  The employee at the register was a new hire and having trouble understanding his request.  I stepped in to offer some help.  This particular customer was an individual with Down syndrome.  There was nothing out of the ordinary, just another routine transaction and cup of coffee.  I finished helping our guest and went back to what I was doing.  The customer went back outside to his table but came back in after some time.  Honestly, I would have too; it was getting a little warm out.  At the time I was busy attending to our condiment bar and sweeping the café lobby.  He sat maybe ten feet from where I was working, just watching.  Then he struck up a conversation.  For clarification, this is not how the conversation went verbatim but it captures the essence of the moment.

He asked me where I was from.  I told him I grew up in Victoria, Texas just south of here.

He asked where that was and whether or not that was on 45.  I said it was roughly two to three hours south of us on 59.

How did I get to The Woodlands?  My family moved here when I was a sophomore in high school.

Where did you go to high school?  The Woodlands High School.

I went to The Woodlands High School; I graduated in 2004.  Oh yeah, you graduated one year before me.  I graduated in 2005.

I hate my life. Silence.

Four words.  Just four words and I did not know how to respond.  My response was something vague and generic.  He caught me off guard with that comment.  It was not how I was expecting that conversation to go.  Sadly, I was not giving my full attention.  In retrospect, I wish I had been.  He continued on talking about how he needed a job so that he could buy himself a car and a variety of other topics that hinged around the fact that he was not happy with his life.  I had the distinct sense that he was lacking the feeling of independence.

Eventually I was done in the café and had to move on to other tasks that needed to be done for the day.  I politely excused myself.  He stayed in the café finishing his drink and enjoying the air conditioning that makes life possible here in the South.  It was not until after he had left and I had clocked out for the day that those few minutes genuinely impacted me.

In the moments that mattered, I felt like I had failed.  Sure, I showed respect and a smile and gave him my time but I did not give him my attention.  Perhaps he was just looking for someone to listen and to talk to in those brief moments and in that I can only hope that I succeeded.  But I cannot shake that feeling of failure.  Do I think that I could have said something that would have been life altering for him or offered anything up that could change those four words?  Most likely not. 

Looking back at how I responded so many what if’s flash through my mind.  If I had only sat down with him and talked.  If I had only put down that broom in my hand.  If I had not used my work as an excuse to move the conversation along.  And so on and so on and so on.  I can only have faith at this point that my words, however vague and generic they may have been, offered some sort of solace.

Right now I am at a time in my life where I am asking myself, “What am I doing with my life?  What impact am I having on those around me and my community?  Am I doing what I am supposed to be doing?”  These are normal questions.  I suspect many of us are thinking this, have thought this or will at some time find themselves asking these questions.  Moments like this remind me that we are always on stage in this show called Life.  Even when we think nobody is watching, people notice the things we do.  While I am struggling with my life’s purpose, I need to remember that each and every day I am able to offer someone something as simple as a “Hello” that I have the opportunity to make an impact on the lives of those around me.  And that is something great.

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