So there's this supermarket not too far from where I used to live. I used to stop in there many mornings on my way to work, for a breakfast sandwich.
There was this lady behind the counter, I'll call her Polly. When I first started going to her counter, I was not particularly thrilled with Polly.
I was often in a hurry, and Polly never seemed to acknowledge that. She would take her time doing whatever sort of sandwich or coffee related chore had her attention before giving me the time of day. She would happily grouse with her co-worker about all sorts of unpleasant things about her job, their boss, the market price of Chilean Sea Bass in a turbulent economy (okay, that one I'm making up), all sorts of things, rather than just get me my damn sandwich.
And, she seemed so very, very grumpy.
Then I had an epiphany. First, I realized that it's not about me , and that perhaps her job really wore her out. Maybe, I reasoned, people all morning long treated her like some sort of breakfast-sandwich-ATM, instead of a person, and that she found it ponderous and terrible.
So, the next day I resolved to talk to her, be thankful, kind, polite, and just treat her like a person.
Everything changed. Her face lit up. She opened to me, and we really connected. Polly became kind, sweet, and real.
I began to really look forward to seeing her, and she did the same. When I would walk into the store, she'd meet my eye and smile. She would get a spring in her step. It would make my whole morning, too. I'd carry the good feeling of seeing her with me all the way to work.
I haven't been going there for many months now. I moved not too far away, but enough that going there would be out of my way. One of the few times I did stop in, looking for her, I was told she had been moved to a different job in the store, and that she didn't work the café anymore.
But today I had an errand nearby, and stopped in. I go get myself some delightful tater tots off the hot bar, grab a bottle of affogato from the cold case, and go to grab a breakfast sandwich, when I see her, back turned to me, talking with someone behind the counter, and in the midst of performing what looks like a food safety inspection. I call out to her by name, "Polly? Is that you?"
She turns around, and her face splits in a wide grin. She greets me like an old friend, which in a way, she is. Our relationship is very limited, and not all that old. But it's got history. She tells me she hasn't seen me around in a while. I tell her about my move. She tells me about her job change, which is really a promotion. We both tell one another how very much we've missed seeing one another, and really both mean it, too.
It was lovely.
She wished me happy holidays, in case she doesn't see me again before them. I walk off feeling light as a feather.
As soon as I got in the car, I had this long talk with my girlfriend, Squee about the whole thing. She laughed, long and loud. Back when I first started going to this place, and dealing with my no-longer-crabby friend, she used to hear my daily woes about the poor service, and was witness to my realization of needed compassion. We've both referred to the sandwiches as "Polly Sandwiches" because of this.
We got into this long talk, at first just about the reunion, and how wonderfully silly and fantastic it was. But then, I saw something I observed to her.
The whole thing, the way I turned my impressions around, the way Polly and I became friends, the lasting good effects it's had on both her and my own life, are an example of really powerful 德 (te, "virtue" or maybe "magical power"). I threw off my judgments about Polly, embraced mindfulness, and made a genuine and lasting friendship.
It's amazing how good a world this can be, when I'm fully present in it.