Spilt Milk Smiles

There is hardly a smell in the world better than warm croissants baking in the oven mingled with a rich coffee aroma. I sit in my favorite coffee shop in the city this morning and the pleasant atmosphere sends my thoughts peacefully drifting. People I have taken note of over the last couple of weeks come to my mind; individuals I noticed making the most out of their moments.

For instance my faithful coffee shop friends who get to know their customers and create a warm, inviting atmosphere. And the lady on the busy train just this morning who was taking the time to teach her delighted toddler how to make a heart shape with her fingers. Then using it to express to her child how much she loves her. Or the bus driver in my neighborhood who greeted every single rider with a “Good morning!” and an authentic smile. Taking time to relay a positive message over the intercom in which he reminded riders to “enjoy each moment and live your life well as you never know what will happen next.”

But I think the most poignant experience I have had of late occurred recently at church. For some reason I always tend to run 10 minutes late to church no matter what time I get up. So that morning as usual I was rushing. On my way in I stopped in the lobby to grab a much needed cup of coffee, and in my haste I spilled a bit of milk on the table. I am not proud to say that it didn’t even cross my mind to wipe it up.

Then from the corner of my eye I saw a disheveled yet pleasant man use a towel and clean the table. He smiled at me and I thanked him and smiled in return, thinking as I climbed the stairs to the service that he must be on “coffee duty” for the church.

As I sat down one of the leaders got up to speak about our community development program. Up on the screen there was a picture of the smiling man that had just cleaned up my mess. The director said that this was one of the homeless men that comes to our outreach. His name is June and he is living on the streets. Since he found our health clinic he has started coming to the church regularly.

I immediately started to replay what had just happened in the lobby. Here was someone without a home to even be late from and he is serving others without hesitation. Cleaning up after my mess! He is making the most out of the very little he has in order to give to others. This actually brought up some very real questions about my own motives and daily walk.

Why was it that I didn’t even think to clean up the milk? Do I feel entitled to assume that someone will come behind me and clean up my mess for me? I volunteer and help others right? I am a good person! Right? But what about those daily moments. Am I living like the bus driver or the mother or the coffee shop workers? Am I giving out of a spirit of love deep down, or am I doing my civic duty during those “appointed service times”?

What is it that makes someone think to serve others first vs. feeling entitled to have others clean up after them? This is a question I must ask myself. Intellectually I can know that I am not better than someone without a place to live, not better than a person driving a bus, not better than someone of another race or economic status. But deep down in my core, is there any small root that says differently in my daily actions?

Prejudice comes in a lot of forms, not just about skin color, country of origin, or socioeconomic status. It can come in a general sense of pride; that deep down thought that I don’t need to serve this person but instead deserve to BE served by them. It can sneak up on us, bubbling over in small moments that we don’t even recognize. Yes, there are the huge and obvious issues such as slavery, social rights, and human trafficking, but what about the “small” ways that we judge one another? I would dare say that those seemingly insignificant interactions may be more foundational than we realize.

Written By

New Yorker, photographer, blogger, and life time dreamer.