It was near the end of my shift when a woman of sixty years or so, entered the small family owned cafe in which I work. She settled into a small booth in the back. I promptly greeted her, asking her if she wanted coffee or orange juice before she placed her food order. She asked for coffee and cream. I walked back to the kitchen and poured a fresh cup of coffee. I placed the mini cream cartons into a small dish and made a bee-line back to the lady's table. Greeting her again, I found her eyes fixed on Anne Lamott's book Blue Shoe.
Smiling I said, "I love Anne Lamott!"
The lady looked up and smiled too. She replied, "Yes, I really enjoyed reading her book Bird by Bird".
I was relieved she mentioned Bird by Bird. In truth I had only read two books by the author, and that happened to be one of them. "That book enabled me to believe I could and should write," I noted. There was a slight pause after my response and then she shot me an excited glance.
"I'm almost finished with this book. Would you like to have it?" I kindly told her, her gesture was kind but unnecessary. But she fought off my words. She insisted she could drop it off in the next day or two, while her granddaughter attended rehearsal down the street.
This time I avoided the polite refusal and accepted her gesture. I casually remarked "Thanks, that would be great. But only if you have time."
I proceeded to guide her through the menu. Collectively we decided the grilled glazed cinnamon roll would be her best option. After about an hour of refilling her coffee mug, thanking me for the gooey warm roll and quietly turning the pages of Lamott's novel, the lady left.
Looking forward to the wedding I would be attending in Cleveland a few days later, I forgot all about the lady and Anne Lamott. But when I showed up to work a week later, I immediately spotted Blue Shoe on the bottom shelf of the take out counter. Underneath, lay the sequel to the other Anne Lamott book I had read, Plan B Further Thoughts on Faith. Two books, authored by a writer I respect, gifted to me by a complete stranger; a delightful surprise.
Grabbing the hardback books off the shelf, I paused to feel the glossy covers between my fingers. My mind wandered away from the whims of the restaurant, marveling at this lady's benevolence. Her generosity broke down the imaginary lines that made me her server and her my customer. Her generosity cut through the stereotype of the harsh cold city, where acts of violence bombard the first ten minutes of the six o'clock news. Her generosity reminded me that I have a choice as I continue to navigate this city. I have the choice to view everyone as a stranger, separate from myself until proven otherwise. Or, I have the choice to view everyone as my neighbor, interconnected beaming with the possibility of meaningful human interaction (no matter how small or brief).
I hope I will choose the latter.