Muskovitz details his enlightening experience at a local Panera that helped him discover the good in today’s crazy world.
I often reserve this space for a lighthearted look at some aspect of life. But the tragic helicopter accident that killed Kobe Bryant, his daughter and seven others, impeachment trial and a deadly virus are just some of the recent stories impeding my ability to find the humor in just about anything.
Throw into the mix the three funerals I’ve attended in the last three weeks and there I was, sitting with my laptop in a booth at Panera Bread, a blank slate void of anything remotely gratifying to write about. Oh, woe is me. But then …
My pity party was interrupted by a spirited conversation I overheard from an adjacent table that included — upon meeting them later — a psychologist, a police officer and several of their breakfast buddies.
It was an eclectic demographic group of white, black, middle-aged and senior citizens. I would learn later they gather Monday through Thursday mornings for an informal meeting of the minds. A roundtable discussion, if you will, made up of two little tables pushed together.
The group was discussing the current state of (gulp) American politics. But it wasn’t what they were talking about that intrigued me; it was how they were talking about it. Opposing points of view weren’t being argued but respectfully discussed.
A woman who overheard the topic stopped to engage the gentlemen on her way out, sharing her opinion in a friendly tone. I stared and listened. These folks were actually… communicating!
At that moment, one of the guys caught me observing their forum and with a chuckle said: “Oh, oh, better watch out; I think that guy over there wants to join the discussion!” Well, I kinda did.
I sauntered over to the group and was immediately asked what I did. I told them I’m a writer who once enjoyed penning equal-opportunity political humor but, because of the divisiveness in our country, I was avoiding the topic as if it were the coronavirus.
I joined the conversation but didn’t go so far as taking a side. Wait, what? How, in this seemingly irretrievable polarizing atmosphere we live in, could I possibly have avoided taking a position? It’s not that I didn’t have one, but at that moment I didn’t want to.
On this day, I was just happy to witness people with opposing points of view push two tables together and reasonably discuss them like real people, not politicians. And from what I can tell, all the participants will reunite tomorrow morning at the same two tables to discuss something entirely different. I intend to find out.
It turns out on this particular day, this Panera location had a second act in store for helping rehabilitate my faith in humanity. Two hours later, I was back in line ordering lunch, a very long line. I commented to the woman in front of me that I was going to bail out because I was on a tight schedule. Without missing a beat, she not only invited me to move ahead of her in line but also offered to hold my place while I went to save a table for myself.
I mean, really?
I thanked her profusely but couldn’t in good conscious improve my standing over the several people lined up behind me. Instead, I exhibited some new found patience, kept my place in line and had a lovely chat with her until both of us ended up at side-by-side registers … at which point I clandestinely slipped my credit card into her register’s machine and paid for her carryout.
I wanted her to know how much her selfless act meant to me. Her random act of kindness led to mine. See how that works? The cherry on top? She was so taken by my gesture that she informed me she was heading to her Bible study, where she would include me in her prayers. The woman operating the register followed suit and proclaimed she, too, would say a prayer for me.
How do you like that? Who knew that when I ordered my Panera Baja Bowl with chicken that I would end up with two free sides of prayers? I left full and fulfilled.
Alan Muskovitz is a writer, voice-over/acting talent, speaker, and emcee. Visit his website at laughwithbigal.com,“Like” Al on Facebook and reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.