“That will be $5.66. Please pull around to the first window.”
I slowly coax my van forward in the pouring rain, fumbling in my purse to find cash. As the car moves, I instinctively turn the radio back up to catch the end of “Sister Golden Hair” by America, then almost immediately lower the volume, lest the teenage girl at the drive-thru window gets wind of my song choice and thinks to herself that it’s “typical” driving music for a lame mom in a minivan. It’s a weird phobia I have…of not wanting strangers to know too much about how I exist inside my car. Because the dirty exterior, scraped-up side mirrors, and “This Van Is Stacked” window sticker aren’t somehow as damaging to my cred as blaring “Sister Golden Hair.”
Handing over my cash, I feel raindrops from the top of my car drip onto my arm, soaking through my sleeve and immediately chilling my skin. The cashier gives me my change, and I clumsily drop the two of the coins onto the pavement below, one of them being a quarter. Fantastic. It has been one of those days – the kind of day I know better than to grumble about aloud, because it could be worse. But it certainly hasn’t been great either, and it doesn’t seem to want to let up. Like this rain. I mean, I am semi-voluntarily eating at McDonald’s without kids, if that is any indication of my mood. What mother, when flying solo, elects the home of the Happy Meal as the nourishment that will make her feel good about herself and her choices that day? This usually happens only when few other options exist, as is my case at the moment.
But it turns out, McDonald’s was exactly what I needed that day. Rather, the angel wearing a headset at the second drive-thru window was exactly what I needed.
McD’s Angel: (handing me my soda) And how are you doing today?
Me: Good. How are you?
McD’s Angel: (handing my my food) BLESSED!
Wait, what? Did she just answer the most trite conversational formality, which most people respond to on auto-pilot, with “blessed”? And did she just refer to the moment of handing me a quarter-pounder with cheese as a “blessing”? When was the last time you saw someone on Facebook post something like: “Just finished an 8-hour shift sticking my head out a window the size of a doggy door, offering condiments no one ever takes, and now I can’t get the smell of onions out of my hair. #blessed” Answer: probably never.
But I’ll be damned. She really did just say that. I immediately smile, look at her, and say, “I like that answer.”
I pull away from the window, arm still wet from the rain, twenty-six cents lost to the pavement, with a bag of bowel-bullying food sitting in the passenger seat, and still facing some undesirable to-do tasks. But I absolutely feel blessed…all because the McDonald’s Angel gave me an attitude adjustment by uttering one word.
[clickToTweet tweet=”‘The drive-thru window. What an unexpected place to find a bit of kindness,’ I think. Untrue.” quote=”‘Huh. The drive-thru window. What an unexpected place to find a bit of kindness,’ I think. Then I realize how untrue that statement actually is.”] I can immediately recall AT LEAST half a dozen specific times someone at a drive-thru window brightened my day enough that it was burned into my long-term memory:
…That time at Arby’s when the guy at the window offered me an unsolicited compliment along with my food: “You look very nice today!” Why thank you, Arby’s drive-thru guy. Your curly fries are delicious.
…That time at Starbucks when the barista at the window handed me my coffee and said, “This one’s on us! Enjoy your day!” They hadn’t even made a mistake or taken too long or anything. They just gave me free coffee to spread a little cheer. (I’m sure there was some corporate strategy at work there, but that’s the kind of corporate strategy I can get behind.)
…That time at Lion’s Choice when, after already ordering and pulling up to the window, I realized I didn’t have my wallet with me. I was mortified. But the woman said, “It happens to all of us. Take the food anyway…we already made it.” Roast beef sandwich. No butter. Extra kindness. (For the record, I couldn’t bring myself to take it. But I did take away lots of warm fuzzies. In hindsight, I should have taken it and paid it forward by giving it to someone else who could have used a meal. Mental note for next time I forget my wallet…which will definitely happen.)
…That every time I used to grab coffee at a little mom and pop drive-thru, and the owner, Sam, would give my toddler a little cup of Cheerios. Or he would share his positive outlook on the world, despite starting life at the bottom of a dumpster in Egypt after being born with cerebral palsy…all while serving the best chai tea latte I’ve ever had.
You get the picture…probably along with the distinct feeling I might need to work on my healthy eating habits. [clickToTweet tweet=”Though we live in a world which increasingly encourages us to disengage, kindness still thrives.” quote=”But the point is even though we live in a world which increasingly encourages us to disengage with each other, kindness still finds a way to thrive.”] Hell, the drive-thru window itself is a contraption of de-personalization: yell your order through a faceless speaker and get your food while keeping your car in drive. But even in those brief moments of interaction, a life can change. Days can be built strong and fulfulling on small bits of kindness.
Our world is full of such overwhelming hurt and destruction. It is easy to feel like the tide simply can not be turned. But it turned for me that day at McDonald’s. It may have only been my personal tide, but it put me in a frame of mind to turn someone else’s. And as I have mentioned before, compassion is in the details. Knowing that is what gave me hope after Ferguson and the attacks on Paris. And it will continue to give me hope after any tragedy I hear of or encounter. Or even on just a really crappy day.
So sometimes, a quick run to the drive-thru can result in more than just a convenient meal. You might get something worth more than $5.66.
How are you? I hope you’re blessed.
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