I have always been a fan of Chick-fil-A. They had me at boneless breast of chicken on a bun. And I have always been an admirer of their business model. Put customers first. Be family friendly. Serve fresh, consistently good food. Stick with what you are good at, but listen to customers when they want change. Be service oriented.
Today I decided to treat myself to a sweet tea. Not just any tea. A real Southern sweet tea served with good ice in their signature Styrofoam cup. So I drove into the drive-through of the Chick-fil-A that my family frequents. I didn’t even care that the line was long, because I knew I’d be greeted by two friendly young people, standing outside in the parking lot, taking my order on an IPad.
Now you may wonder why a sweet tea had me so excited. I gave up tea during Lent, and I have tried to stay away from anything but water ever since. But today I needed a treat, and for me, that means a sweet tea.
Just as I expected, a nice young woman took my order and flashed me a big smile. I idly wondered if she was one of the many young people who have been the recipients of a Winshape scholarship from Chick-fil-A’s marvelous college program. Yes, this was working out just like I thought. I even had 3 or 4 minutes to check my email as I waited for my turn to pick up my drink.
As I reached the takeout window, the lady inside handed me my beverage. And that is when something surprising happened. She didn’t greet me. She didn’t smile and say “see you tomorrow” as I’ve come to expect. Heck, she didn’t even make eye contact as she thrust the cup out the window. Nada. Nothing.
As I drove away, I wondered why I felt irrationally disappointed. And if I am honest, maybe a little irritated. How dare she not meet my expectations and greet me the way I’ve come to expect. What is HER problem.
I’ve had a little time to think about this. About her lack of a greeting and my response to it. I grudgingly thanked her as I drove away. I began to seriously consider what her problem might be. Too many customers at the same time. A bad day at work. A family illness. Crippling financial problems. Or maybe just tired feet.
It’s not really important what her problem was. I had no real control over that interchange other than my reaction to it. And that is the crux of this story. Who had I failed to make eye contact with that day? Perhaps the man that lives in the parking lot of that very Chick-fil-A whom I studiously avoid making eye contact with because it makes me feel sad and guilty?
Sometimes in the quiet of driving I get a message that I know is the whispering of the Holy Spirit. It came to me very clearly as I drove out of the parking lot. It’s not important that someone failed to greet me. It is important that I connect with the feeling I had at the time, of being dismissed and ignored.
I had one last stop to make at the mall. As I exited the store after my errand, I saw two Muslim women in Burkas headed my way. One appeared to be younger and her face was exposed. The older woman’s face was covered, with only her eyes exposed. I was struck by the beauty of the younger woman’s garments.
In a split second I knew what I had to do. I made eye contact with both women. And then I smiled and offered a jaunty hello.
And then the most amazing thing happened. The women looked right back at me. Full on eye contact. The younger woman flashed the most beautiful smile and returned my hello. And the older woman? Her smile was all in her eyes.