After graduate school I worked for a year as a waitress at the Olive Garden. Dressed in black pants and a pressed white shirt with requisite greasy necktie, I carried heavy trays of dishes to my waiting tables, taking care to place each meal with precision before its corresponding diner. I liked waitressing in the same way I like online arcade games like Big Money and Bejeweled. It was, once you knew the menu and wine list, fairly mindless work.
One of the easiest ways to increase your income as a waitress is to increase your speed, cycling as many diners through your allotted tables as possible during your given shift. The litany at the Olive Garden went: orders, drinks, salad and bread, entrees, dessert, check and repeat. Since we were limited to three “open” tables at a time, some servers I knew took things a bit further by slapping down the check and cashing the customer out as soon as the meal was served so they could pick up other tables. With typical bawdy restaurant humor we jokingly referred to this practice as “pre-mature echeckulation.”
Every time I served a meal I ended my delivery with a cheerful, “Enjoy!” I said it often and repeatedly without thinking until one day I noticed the phrase as it slipped from my lips, “Enjoy!” From then on I heard it every time I said it, an open invitation.
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After my stint as a waitress I worked as a Chaplain at Penn State Hershey Medical Center. The job required considerably more mindfulness, though here too there was a litany to follow which, when paired with my own self-imposed pressure to increase productivity, kept the days moving along at a rapid clip.
One morning in the midst of a conversation my supervisor, who was nearing retirement age, said something like, “Now that I’m getting older I find myself wanting to, trying to, savor life.”
Savor. The word sat there on the table between us like a tempting morsel, something invitingly heavy and rich. I picked it up and bit into it, rolled it around in my head for weeks, months, years, savoring it, I suppose.
Now I held in my hands, my heart, two invitations, “savor” and “enjoy,” that seemed utterly opposed to the way I’d learned to play the game of life. These words offered a time-out in the midst of the litany of run, run faster, run harder, run until you don’t know where you came from and can’t recall where you’re going.
* * * * * *
The litany has changed again, but the feelings haven’t. Now I’m at home most days in a job that involves an endless list of coffee-fueled cleaning and carrying and ferrying of people and things, from dawn until dusk, then repeat. There are days, of course, where it becomes a game, where I make it a game in order to survive. Days that I push my children through with the efficiency I learned as a waitress, the productivity I learned from my time working in the medical system.
Still, everywhere I go, people call out, “Enjoy it, it’ll be over before you know it.” and “It goes by so fast!” These are usually passing strangers, grayed and bent with age, looking longingly, hungrily at my bouncing, bopping, hopping children as we pass on the sidewalk or in the aisle of a store. Their carts hold the humble needs of a household of one while I struggle to push a veritable Big Mac filled with as much food as we can afford.
When my oldest was an infant these comments annoyed me to no end. Those were days that I struggled, seeing no future but only a ceaseless unsavory present. Like the waitress waiting for her big break and the chaplain struggling to believe that offering presence in the present was enough, I pushed through my days barely daring to pause for fear of what I would find.
I get it now or, I should say, I get it more than I did then. Or maybe it’s more that I hear a voice in my own heart echoing that of those around me, “Enjoy!” and “Savor.”
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These are the last days of summer, the heavy days, slow and fast at the same time, the fleeting ones. These are the days before my oldest is off to first grade and my preschooler will be gone three mornings a week. The days before the twins will be really walking, then running, in opposite directions from each other. These are the days before whatever comes next, be it welcome or not. These moments that come and go with the slamming of the screen door. These are the days to savor, to enjoy.
Ah, God, still our souls, awaken our senses to these days. Help us to sit down, sink down into them in all of their blessing and struggle, for this day, these days, are the days that the Lord has made.