I stood in line at a Carl’s Junior restaurant in Palm Desert, California, eager to order my Chicken Fried Steak sandwich and strawberry shake. Sixteen years old, pregnant but not yet showing, my parents had whisked me away from hometown shame and embarked on a sudden cross country trip. A modern day escape from ruination.
Several people back in the long line stood a girl of dark complexion, luxurious black hair hanging down her back and a young man at her side, one hand rested on her lower back. He was handsome, but it was her I noticed. She was fantastic looking. Exotic. I glanced back a couple of times, uncomfortable with eye contact, completely submerged in shyness through my teen years.
I stared at the menu when I felt someone next to me, turned , and the young woman was there.
“I just had to come tell you…you are so cute! Just adorable!” she said, smiling. And then she was gone, back to her place, the man’s hand guiding her through the line.
Tongue tied, I think I spit out a thank you, turned three shades of red, and looked back up at the menu having no idea how to respond to such a compliment. I was, after all, not feeling very cute. I felt morning sick. I felt shamed. Like a billboard for what not to be.
But inside…inside my soul, every insecurity I had ever had, every momentary teen-brained thought of self-loathing had been squelched if only for that few seconds.
And that girl, who I remember as if I were looking at her right now, had no idea the affect she had. Six seconds it took her, to walk forward, compliment me, and return to her place in line.
Six seconds of feeling you matter to the world, even if it’s by some stranger in line at a Carl’s Junior restaurant in 1988.
Six seconds I have carried with me for twenty-four years. Standing in line at the bank. The grocery store. The post office. Surrounded by strangers who may not even notice I am there. Strangers who may be having the worst day of their lives. And I hold those seconds in my hand. I hold the power to make or break that moment for anyone around me, with nothing more than a smile, a few kind words, a laugh to break the silence.
We all carry with us the ability to change lives. That whole “Pay it forward” concept that so many of us forget in our hurried lives. Too busy, too tired, too side tracked to glance over at the woman in the next line who buries her face in a magazine so she doesn’t have to look at anyone while she waits, who may have thoughts of self hatred, who maybe didn’t even want to get out of bed that morning, and say, “Hey I love your shoes…” or “You have lovely hair.” We hold the power to give her six seconds of hope.
What difference does it make, we too often think. After all, who would ever remember something like that?