On Remembering to Smile

If there’s one thing I learned from working at the Bakery, it’s to keep smiling. I learned a lot about making and selling bread, and what kosher means, and devouring pastries, and of course customer service. I can sum it up in one emotion: a smile.

Today was my official last day at Zak the Baker’s. It was a busy Sunday, but things seemed to be running smoothly. I managed to expedite and run orders by myself for most of the day, and I did OK. I remember when I started working there, it was my least favorite task. Taking orders? No problem. But calling out folks’ names, coordinating orders, delivering food and try to clear tables, all under the watchful (or disapproving) eyes of customers is a tough order for most people. I’m the first to admit I have a hard time keeping my cool when orders get backed up, or someone claims the wrong sandwiches, or a bag of trash splits open behind the counter. Or we oversell an item. Or a customer is bossy or impatient, or looks at me like I’m from the moon.

Mixin and movin dough at Zak the Baker's

Mixin and movin dough at Zak the Baker’s (or on Saturdays, the “Drakery,” as we call it)

What I’ve realized, over time, though, is that (almost) no matter the circumstances, a sweet smile goes a long way. Being attentive and courteous does too, but humility and a smile seem to translate most simply.

It’s fantastic, too. Almost like a trick or secret. Smiling not only helps customers see that I’m trying, I care, and I want to make sure they’re taken care of…but it helps me stay calm. I can avoid dumping a bowl of soup on someone who’s being rude.

A smile has the ability to transform. It alters the state of the recipient, the giver, and the mood of almost any situation.

One of my favorite customers came in today. I didn’t expect to see her again. She’s someone I could sit and talk with for hours, I’m sure, about yoga, life, food and people. Situations. From the day I met her, talking across the counter over loaves of bread, I knew we just connected. Only a month or so later when we talked more did we realize our connections went beyond the cafe. We had mutual acquaintances in common. We both appreciate (and LOVE) alignment-based yoga—she prefers Iyengar, I’m head over heels for Anusara. We enjoy the same somewhat scandalous beach.

But beyond those connections, talking to her is like talking to a dear old friend. How many times I’ve wanted to sit with a cup of tea and enjoy lunch with her, right there in the cafe.

She gave me many gifts—mostly of someone sweet to chat with, while I swept tickets around on Sundays, about bread and people and life. But today she left me with a parting gift. A tiny laughing Buddha statue that she’d had for many years and that accompanied her on her own travels. “It reminded me of you! A beautiful bald head and your smile!” she quipped.

I laughed, then, and of course smiled. I saved the tears for now, though. To meet someone, just by chance, in a bakery, who recognizes a hint of buddha in you…is the greatest gift of all. Thank you for giving me the reassurance and reminder that my smile is the light that I share, no matter where I go. This little buddha will stay with me for a long time.

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