Nicole lives a humble life. A single mother of two young boys, she struggles to make sure her children have everything they need. She works forty hours a week at a local restaurant. Serving at a restaurant was not the career she envisioned for herself, but college had been set aside when she got married and became a mother.
Three years ago, Nicole and the children’s father divorced. Now, he’s only a voice over the phone around the holidays. He does send money at times, but it is sporadic and often very little. It takes more than $100 a month to feed and clothe two growing boys. Still, Nicole is happy and grateful for her life. Her children are healthy and happy; she feels blessed.
GLASS HALF FULL KINDA GIRL
Nicole enjoys her job and every day she works her hardest to give her customers the best service. With a smile on her face, she brings them every last thing they request; from extra napkins to the millionth refill on their soda. Often, her positive and friendly demeanor brings out a smile from even the crabbiest customer.
The restaurant was slow this time of year and unfortunately, the customers hadn’t been tipping very well. But Nicole tried to give each customer the benefit of the doubt when she served them. She kept in mind that many of her customers probably didn’t know that minimum wage for a server is only $2.13 an hour and that the tips they left were her actual pay.
Nicole is a true believer in finding the silver lining in every hard or disappointing moment. She believes that a positive attitude is the best remedy for any situation. Looking on the bright side of things, she always manages to turn a negative into a positive.
When asked, “How do you keep smiling when things look so bad?”
She answered, “I’m just a glass half full kinda girl.”
ONE OF THOSE DAYS
This particular day started out rough. Nicole woke up late and when she went to fix her children breakfast, she opened the refrigerator to find empty shelves. She felt a sting in her heart. After paying the electric bill and her car insurance; the few dollars she had left hadn’t stretched very far in the grocery department. But Nicole took a deep breath. She knew she needed to stay positive and could make enough money today to buy groceries. Dry cereal and the last two oranges would have to do for breakfast today.
Everything seemed to go in slow motion, except for the time. The kids struggled to get out of bed and picked on one another to the point of arguing. But Nicole remained calm and moved them along as quickly as possible. Halfway down the block, her youngest son realized he forgot his backpack. Nicole turned the car around, ran in quickly and grabbed it. She giggled to herself at how crazy this morning had been.
Finally, she got the kids to school. They were late and that meant she was late to work too. Thankfully her supervisor had small children too and was empathetic to her situation. Nicole was also rarely late to work, and this was positive when it happened once in a while.
The day went on, but the struggle continued. Nicole dropped a tray of glasses. She hadn’t done that since her first few days on the job. Her chest began to feel tight with anxiety, but she quickly swept up the glass and went back to her customers.
Then she dropped a dish of marinara sauce down the front of her apron. Nicole was grateful that it hadn’t been all over her shirt too. Another server had an extra apron and offered it to her. Nicole accepted with sincere thanks and relief. “I work with really wonderful people,” she thought.
Even with all of the hiccups, Nicole continued to show her customers the best and friendliest service. None of her customers had been overly nice, but still, she looked forward to the opportunity to turn one customer’s day around. She loved meeting new people. Often, she met some really interesting and kind people. Sometimes, she met customers who were incredibly generous and on rough days like today, she reminded herself of those guests.
On a quick break, Nicole listened to a voicemail left by her children’s school. Their lunch accounts were in the negative. She would need to add money to their accounts or pack their lunches for school tomorrow. She let out a heavy sigh and shook her head. Nicole began to feel anxious again. Her chest felt tight and she could feel a lump of tears building in her throat. “Won’t anything let up?” she thought.
As a tear slipped out, she quickly went to the restroom and took a deep breath. She splashed a bit of cold water on her face. Looking in the mirror, she reminded herself, “It’ll be okay. Everything will work out. Just focus on this moment. One moment at a time.” She gave herself a quick smile, blotted the tears from the corner of her eyes, and went back to work.
Business had slowed down after lunch. Nicole didn’t have a single table. The day outside had grown cloudy and windy. Customers had mentioned a bitter chill in the air.
Often, when business slowed down, Nicole would go to the front lobby and hold the door for guests; welcoming them as they entered. Today was no different. She thought it might pick up her spirits to do something nice for someone else.
While she was holding the door, she noticed that an elderly lady was making her way across the parking lot. She was very petite and fragile. Her cane supported her as she very slowly inched along. Every few steps she stopped to rest. Nicole ran out to her and greeted her with a smile.
“Hi there. Would you like to take my arm? I would love to escort you in,” she said gently.
“Oh, that would be wonderful. These old legs don’t work like they used to. Actually, nothing works like it used to,” the woman joked.
“Well, I’m Nicole and I would be happy to help.”
“Aren’t you sweet. I’m Joyce,” she said with a warm smile. “I like to park a bit farther away from the buildings because I need the exercise. Have to keep the blood circulating.”
She and Nicole both laughed. Joyce felt light as a feather as she held on to Nicole’s arm. Nicole could smell the light scent of lilacs and smiled when she saw that Joyce’s hair was pinned back with two tiny butterfly barrettes.
“Today’s my seventy-sixth birthday and I’ve decided to treat myself. My daughter and I used to come here every year on my birthday. I just love the roast beef.”
Joyce and Nicole slowly walked to the front door. When they arrived, the elderly woman sat down on a bench in the entrance way. She needed a moment to collect herself.
Nicole sat beside her. After Joyce caught her breath, Nicole listened as she shared that her birthday was really the only day she ate out. Her husband passed away several years ago and their only daughter had lost her battle with breast cancer last summer. Joyce was the last living member of her family.
“You know people always say I’m blessed to have lived for so long. It’s true; I have seen some amazing things, but it’s lonely. I miss my daughter and my husband. So many of my friends have passed too. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not sitting around waiting to join them, but my memories overwhelm me sometimes,” she said sadly. She had tears in her eyes. Nicole gave her hand a little squeeze and Joyce took a tissue from her pocket and dabbed at the corner of her eyes.
“Well, at least I have my parrot Scooter to keep me company. He such a good boy,” she said with a soft smile. “My goodness, I must be keeping you from your customers. I can just go on and on. My husband used to call me his chatterbox,” Joyce giggled.
“Oh no. Not at all. I’ve really enjoyed your company. I’ve had a bit of a rough day and you’ve given me a breath of fresh air. Thank you,” Nicole said.
As she helped the old lady up from the bench and escorted her into the restaurant the parking lot began to fill up again. Joyce asked if she could sit by a window. She thanked Nicole again and gave her a warm hug. Then Joyce took the arm of the host and made her way to her table.
Joyce was a nice reminder to enjoy each moment of every day. But Nicole thought about Joyce outliving her family and friends. What must it be like to watch all of your loved ones pass before you? Her heart went out to Joyce. She would make sure to say goodbye to her. Nicole also wanted to invite her to come back before her next birthday and join her for lunch.
FRUIT AND CRACKERS
Making it back to her section Nicole saw that a family of four had been seated. There was a mom, dad, daughter around four years old and a little boy who looked younger than that. The children’s overwhelming cries and demands were heard all over the restaurant.
Nicole greeted the family with a smile, but the parents were so busy trying to get a handle on their two children that Nicole thought it better to wait a moment until everyone was settled. When she returned it appeared that the children had calmed down. Both parents were looking at their menus. Neither paid any attention to Nicole when she introduced herself. Mom demanded two waters and two kid’s milks.
Nicole went to the kitchen and grabbed the four drinks. She could hear cries again and this gave her an idea. She put some fruit and crackers on a small plate for the kids. Hopefully, this would make things more enjoyable for everyone.
As she walked back to the table, she could hear the children banging their silverware on the table. “It would be nice if mom and dad would take the silverware away,” she thought. But she tried to have some empathy because she remembered how stressful it could be with small children.
When she returned to the table both children were squirming and crying. Snot and tears were spread all over both of their faces. Nicole set down the drinks and the plate of snacks, but no one seemed to notice. She asked if they needed a few more minutes before they ordered, but mom cut her short and gave the orders for everyone around the table.
While waiting for their entrees the children had spurts of yelling which mom and dad seemed to tune out. Nicole went back and refilled the waters and saw that the children had not only colored all over the table with the crayons provided by the restaurant, but they had also opened all of the packets of sugar and dumped them on the table. The fruit and crackers had been strewn all over the floor and smooshed into the carpet.
When their meals arrived, there wasn’t a thank you or even a look up from their phones. Mom and Dad ate and didn’t seem to care that both children were smearing their macaroni and cheese all over the booth. The only time anyone spoke to Nicole was when Dad asked for extra napkins.
As soon as they were finished Nicole handed Dad the check and asked if they needed anything else. No one said a word, but Mom shook her head. Dad handed Nicole his credit card. She hurried to the computer, ran his credit card for the $60 bill and returned to the table. She handed back the credit card and pointed out the restaurants’ copy. Nicole asked Dad to please leave the signed copy for her on the table.
She walked up to the lobby as the family put prepared to leave. Holding the lobby door for them, Nicole thanked them and invited them to come back soon. Still, no one said anything.
THE STRAW THAT BROKE THE CAMELS BACK
Nicole returned to the table. It looked like a small tornado had ripped through the booth. Macaroni and cheese, sugar, milk, ripped napkins and broken crayons decorated the table, booth, and floor. But, the worse of all was the mashed potatoes that were smeared on the wall next to the booth. Fingers had drawn shapes and swirls in the mashed potatoes. Nicole was completely exhausted just looking at the mess.
“My goodness,“ she thought. She couldn’t believe that the parents allowed this. The whole experience was so frustrating, and Nicole wanted to scream. Did they really think that this was okay? She didn’t even clean-up mess like this after her own children.
Nicole picked up the check book and opened it to find that Dad had not left a tip. What a slap in the face. No tip and Nicole got to clean up a huge mess.
Even more insulting, the dad had actually taken the time to write a zero on the tip line. He wouldn’t take one second to thank her for anything, but he could make it a point to draw a zero. She slammed the book closed and sunk into the dirty booth. Nicole put her head in her hands and began to cry.
She felt beat up. It had been an awful day. She was overwhelmed with the demands that lay before her and any angry at that her customers had been so inconsiderate and rude. To make matters worse, Nicole had only made $30 all day.
The walls began closing in as she thought about the empty refrigerator shelves. Where was the silver lining? It was becoming hard to stay positive when every turn met her with a new problem.
After several minutes, Nicole collected herself. She picked her head up and dried her eyes. She just wanted to clean her section and go home. Tomorrow would be a new day.
As she stood up, she realized that she hadn’t gone back to say goodbye to Joyce. “Was she still here?” Nicole wondered. Nicole looked toward the table to find that Joyce had left, and a new couple was seated. Once again, her shoulders drooped. Joyce had been the brightest part of Nicole’s day and it was upsetting that Nicole didn’t get a chance to say goodbye. She had wanted to thank her again for being a bright spot in her day. How would Nicole invite Joyce to lunch now?
Nicole’s shift finally ended. As she made her way to the lobby door, she heard the host call after her. “Nicole, wait! It got so busy earlier that I forgot to give you this.” He handed Nicole an envelope.
“What is it?” Nicole asked.
“The little old lady you helped earlier left it for you.”
Nicole opened the envelope. In it, she found a $100 bill and a note. The note read,
Nicole, thank you so much for your help this afternoon. I enjoyed my lunch and got to thinking about my next visit here. I would like to visit again before my next birthday and would really enjoy your company. I would like to invite you to lunch next week. I hope to hear from you soon. Keep your head up.
At the bottom of the letter was her phone number and this quote,
“The smallest act of kindness is worth more than the grandest intention.”