I just had a lesson in humility.
My friend Rob and I walked up the street to grab some Subway for lunch. It was a late lunch, so I was eager to throw down a footlong and was focused on little else other than getting that sammie back to my office. I ordered a sweet onion chicken teriyaki, mostly because it sounds like some kind of curse phrase that an old-timer would use to indicate surprise and/or alarm (as in, "Sweet onion teriyaki, that boy can dance!"). As I watched my whole-wheat bun make its way down the line, I asked for the appropriate toppings. I quickly became annoyed, however, when it became clear that my "sandwich expert" was skimping on the extras. A thin layer of lettuce that barely covered the bun. 4 tomatoes instead of 6. I could count the number of onion slices and yellow peppers he put on there. I didn't, but I could have. With every topping he lazily under-applied, I became a little more peeved. He was ruining my lunch, and he didn’t even care!
While I debated correcting him, or even climbing over the counter to do it myself, Rob began talking to the kid. Granted, it was a slow, sporadic, awkward conversation, but they talked. Apparently they knew each other from a few years back. And in those brief few moments, this young kid (who happened to be working his first ever shift at Subway) admitted that things have been rough for him. The last thing he said was that he was trying to get his life back together.
And here I was yelling in my brain about tomatoes.
I suddenly felt quite foolish. I was overly concerned about vegetables. I saw only a sub. Rob saw a soul. From what I gathered of the situation, this kid had a lot of reason to feel alone, hurt, afraid, and condemned. That was all staring me in the face, from right over the sneeze guard. But I missed it. I was focusing on the sandwich.
The outing ended with Rob inviting this young guy to stop by our office or church sometime. It ended with Rob letting him know that there are people here who won't judge him and who care about him. People far more empathetic and compassionate than myself.
Hurting people are everywhere. I hope I can stop forgetting this, and remember instead to look for opportunities to engage those hurts with a conversation and a smile.
Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. - Ian Maclaren