"Service is the rent we pay for the privilege of living on this earth. It is the very purpose of life, and not something you do in your spare time." Shirley Chisholm
When I was a young woman, I tried to get a job at a fancy restaurant as a waitress. It was the only job available in the rural area where I was living. When asked what experience I had, I lied and said I had worked my way through college as a waitress at my uncle’s fancy restaurant. The closest job I actually had was serving ice cream and burgers.
I got the job and was given six tables to wait on. Each table had six courses to be served in addition to drinks and wine from the bar. I was completely out of my ken. I really had no idea how to open wine with a flourish, keep track of which table was on what course, make sure everyone got what they actually ordered, etc. And then I realized two things: taking care of six tables was like performing an intricate dance. I could immerse myself in the steps of the dance and keep the food and drink flowing. But most important was to approach each table with a true attitude of service.
“How can I help you?” became my mantra and also my heart-felt approach to my job. I was genuinely interested in each group I served. I was honest in telling them that I was new to this type of job. I laughed at myself as I struggled with the wine corks, or forgot who ordered what. I listened to each and every person and soon had them telling me about their lives in the course of the six courses they consumed. I may not have been the best waitress, but I was the friendliest and got lots of praise from my customers and really good tips.
The key here was that I realized as a waitress I was there to serve my customers. Truly serve them. Once I became aware of this, my customers responded with delight and appreciation.
Since that time I have pondered the idea of service. So much of what we all do each and every day is a kind of service, but if we are not aware of it, we lose the opportunity to really experience the benefits and effects of that service. What exactly do I mean by “service”? To serve can mean offering comfort and aid to another human being, feeding the birds on cold winter days, clearing out a storm drain after a big rain, sending money to a favorite charity, volunteering in your child’s classroom. But service also means making breakfast for your family, changing a diaper, grocery shopping, cleaning the toilet, sweeping the floor. The list is endless. We perform countless acts of service every day without being aware of it. As soon as we become aware, the experience is enhanced and we are uplifted by each act of service instead of feeling drained.