Finding Joy: The People We Meet
She greeted me with a kind of genuine enthusiasm you don’t often see in people. She may have only been about five feet four, and tipped the scales at less than a hundred pounds, but she projected herself with the charisma of a Broadway star. I had just sat down in a very popular café in Portland, Oregon. She told me her name and offered me a choice of French Pressed Rwandan or some other dark blend, suggesting I peruse a breakfast menu that promised to crush whatever weak resolve I might have had about eating something healthy. I know her real name, but let’s just call her Joy, because she truly is one.
Here, in the buzzing hive of a mid-week breakfast crowd, full of hungry, and probably some irritable patrons, Joy managed to connect with me in a way that I think we all crave. She looked me in the eye. She smiled. She laughed. She offered me Belgian Waffles. With a waive of her arm, the kind of thing you do when your speeding down the highway, windows down, letting your hand your hand rise and fall in the wind, she described a particular dish that was “topped with a ribbon of Dijon.” I almost ordered it just to see her repeat the waive.
She noticed my Southern accent and said something that made me blush. I mentioned I was something of a writer. She told me both of her parents were writers, that Dad had written several travel books. Her Mom, as a recall, had published a work about some esoteric topic in psychology that was well beyond my capacity to grasp. Joy told me she was from Alaska, by way of California, and had been working in this landmark restaurant for more than ten years. She didn’t have to tell me she loved her job, I could tell, but she did anyway. She looked at another associate, asking the woman her employee number, a designation of when you joined the business. It was in the seven-hundreds. Joy was the proud owner of a number in the twenties.
I’ve often written about the people I meet—a smartly dressed old man I met in the mall, a veteran of World War II, with an eye for the ladies; a tailor named Esso who spoke no English on his arrival from Africa; and the men and woman I’ve met in towns small and large. I try to pay attention to them because their stories are often compelling. It’s funny what people will trust you with if they never think they will see you again—but I think it’s more about wanting to connect with one another. I certainly felt connected to Joy. I told her I would be writing about her because she had made such an impression on me. Yesterday she wrote kind words to me about some of my work she had found online and suggested our meeting was no accident. Divine inspiration, she said. I think maybe she was right.
Maybe the lesson here, if there is one, is to be mindful of the people you meet. Joy would have been hard to ignore, but I’m sure others have managed. They’ve missed something—no, someone—special. While they were busy consuming platefuls of eggs, Belgian Waffles, and pancakes prepared by some mystical alchemist of culinary delight, they could have had the added pleasure of getting to know Joy a little bit. But we are often so busy or so self absorbed in our plans, our smart phones, or even our worries, we miss these holy moments. And we are the worse for it, I fear.
For the record, I ordered the Migas, a combination of eggs, chorizo, cheese and corn tortillas that was so delicious I feared I was hallucinating, delivered by a tiny angel who managed to upsell me on the avocadoes and the genuine Maple syrup. Did I mention I also had the Belgian Waffle—topped with perfectly ripe sliced bananas which also happened to be an upsell. Joy is very good at her job, you see.
As I reflect on these words, I think we are all looking for Joy in some way. We just get distracted and miss the chance to find little bits of it…in the people we meet. And Joy, if you’re reading, I’ll see you on my next visit.