I was sitting in a Dublin restaurant earlier this week. It was around 2.30 p.m and if there had been a lunchtime rush the tables were now squeaky clean. I don’t normally eat on my own but my legs were tired. The surprise was that I was barely seated when the waitress bulleted through saloon-type doors that swung back and forth on her entrance. I could see two tall chef hats peep through the upper gap.
‘Would you like to see the express lunch menu?’ she asked
Either I had a hurried look that I was unaware of or the restaurant only caters for people from the fast lane.
I opted for the homemade sausages and mash. She was a friendly woman. Her smile shone through every syllable spoken. Her eyes seemed to smile too. And she was so professional. Cheerfulness and friendliness are important traits in the skillset of a good waitress. I’ve often witnessed waitresses allow their faces freeze or clasped teeth show when merely requested to bring some vinegar for fries. (I have to have vinegar for fries!).
Helena told me that lunchtime had been very busy and she appreciated a period of calmness before the evening busy-period beckoned. She treated me like a king. More water? Would you like some more mash? Everything ok? And radiant smiles. I left her a tip in the bill wallet. Lovely to meet someone happy in their job, I thought.
Before I departed I flicked through my magazine. Then Helena’s mobile phone rang. She panicked as she felt each of her pockets. And then she sat down in hurried panic. All smiles suddenly evaporated. I wasn’t deliberately eavesdropping. She seemed to have forgotten that I was still there. Tears erupted. ‘No – no word yet’ she said ‘I didn’t get it. They would have contacted me by now.’ A few pauses in the conversation, ‘I just hate it here,’ she continued. ‘I can’t stand it anymore.’
There is another person who I will never forget. Maria told me how she was devastated because of an incident at work. She supervised a team of ten people. She was so happy in that job. They were a lovely staff who needed little in terms of supervision, she told me. But Angela rang her one evening as both woman headed for home. A message from earlier that day was relayed to Maria. Everything dramatically changed within minutes. Whatever Angela did she didn’t hang up properly and returned to another conversation ‘live’ as Maria listened in. ‘That stupid bitch does my head in.’ she said and for the next couple of minutes she tore her boss to shreds. Personal vindictive material ensued about Maria’s appearance and accent. Her fashion sense and her despicable personality traits were discussed. Maria said that her heart raced in shock. ‘I thought Angela was my friend. I couldn’t believe my ears.’
About thirty years ago I sat in a pub in the Midlands. It was a Saturday night. But the sing-song didn’t finish until after 4 a.m. Peadar was a superb singer and guitar player. Every song got better. The 21st party never expected to be treated to such a selection of well-polished classics. Thank God someone passed him the guitar. The following morning he took his own life. No sign. A family devastated forever.
Sometimes we haven’t a clue. The truth can hide. The smiles may be camouflaging inner pain. The loyal friend may be an actor who cannot play honesty. A troubled mind may mask itself in music. Coming to grips with our emotions is a critical part of coping in crisis. Knowing how we feel is important but allowing those feelings truthful expression is another step. We need to cultivate within families, schools and communities an environment where the truth can be worn more easily. We need to be true to ourselves and to others. One skill which we often overrate ourselves at is mind reading people. The truth is that sometimes we haven’t got a clue.
(c) Shane Martin www.moodwatchers.com