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It was late in the afternoon on Valentine’s Day. A long day of chores, tasks, duties resulted in fatigue, frustration and a really funky disposition.
No chocolates or flowers or special dinners could take me to a long, Calgon moment. Remember those commercials? Besides, Hubby Dear was bereft of ideas beyond, “Whatcha wanta do?” He’d already been plagued by my female friends questioning his intentions for the day.
So, we did what we usually do...more tasks. Get gas. Buy a bigger pot for a favorite plant. Stop at a pizza franchise to buy a “special dinner,” special because I would not have to cook it. Even that choice was complicated by his realization the car’s gas tank was nearly empty. I ordered the meal purchase while he meandered to an adjacent gas station.
All was ordinary on this supposedly extraordinary day. I placed the order and sat to await its delivery…hot and aromatic.
Time tick-tocked while the phones rang off the hook. Obviously, I was among the multitude of romantics for whom pepperoni or sausage or a combination of ingredients ranked high on the list of Valentine choices.
Those taking the orders scurried about like frantic mice. It made me smile with thoughts of the television reality show, “Undercover Boss.” Surely, their boss could not keep their pace and their apparent ease with it all.
Before any of the waiting customers could comment on the peacefulness in the scurrying, a call came in and disturbance occurred. The caller was more than unhappy. She did not receive what she had ordered.
Well, let’s put that sentence in capital letters. She was irate that her order was not correct. No amount of consolation, including a full refund, a pizza done to her specifications and an apology from the manager was sufficient. Her Valentine to the harried staff was a rampage of insults.
I was as upset as they were. What would assuage the grief I saw? What could I say or do that would make any difference at all? Did anyone else care?
I turned to the other customer who was also waiting. He wore a ball cap inscribed with the words, “I walk with Jesus.” Catching his eye, I indicated his cap and commented, “Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone had a cap like yours?”
His smile came slowly. With a faint whisper, he responded, “I get that a lot where I work. People just don’t have any respect. It’s hard to give respect when you don’t get it.”
It surely was hard for those workers to maintain a respectful attitude, to continue to labor as if nothing had happened to demean it and them. Yet, they did.
The manager returned to her robotic manufacturing of pizza circles, spread them with tomato sauce and all the commanded toppings. Those who took the orders continued their chant, “Order up!” The drivers grabbed filled boxes and raced away to deliver them, still hot and aromatic.
They had all been ordered at, but chose to ignore the temptation to throw up their hands, to shout out, to be lessened by the ugliness they had received. True and understandably so, shoulders slumped for a few moments. Their hearts had been pierced by someone who would not or could not accept the fact we are all flawed human beings. We all mess up on orders given and received.
At the same time, we all try to do our best. We try to make the best of every situation. We all get tired. We all feel unwanted, unappreciated, unloved at times.
Those folks showed me what we can do when that happens. They showed me the pizza of life can be delivered gracefully, no matter how gracelessly it is received. They demonstrated that “little” people working “little” jobs are often bigger than those who command high positions.
Those thoughts, those images raced through my mind while I waited. They helped me to put into perspective the long time I sat waiting for my order to be filled, likely a time lapse that occurred because phone orders needed to be completed. I waited and watched.
Then it happened. The door flew open. A young man entered bearing a monstrous plush heart, a smaller stuffed animal, and a bouquet of flowers. He stood to the side of the door that opened to the baking area. It was obvious he was bearing and being a Valentine for his girlfriend. It was also obvious that he was quite bashful about the whole thing.
Smiles creased our faces. Here we were, a bunch of older folks, witnessing what would be a striking contrast to the discouragement that had just occurred.
The young teenage girl—all of them are young to my old eyes—for whom these treats were intended, did not see her boyfriend enter. Her eyes were cast down as she paid attention to the order blank in front of her and listened carefully to the phone order being placed. As she looked up and saw him, she blushed furiously, covered her face, and then shyly said, “I don’t know what to do.”
Should she quickly leave her post to receive the Valentines? Could she do so? The atmosphere in the room intensified with our silent hope that she’d take the chance. We’d stand by her decision. We’d applaud her choice. We’d fight for her right to love and be loved.
No one spoke. Our silence was sufficient to empower her. She took the few steps to the door and opened it quickly. With arms stretched wide, she accepted the gifts. More importantly, she accepted the giver.
It was only a moment, only a split second of time before she returned to her post. Nothing had changed. The phone rang incessantly. “Order up!” was shouted. Drivers raced to the door, boxes in hand, but she was smiling a face-breaking smile.
Nothing had changed? That young woman changed. Her boyfriend had changed. Nothing had changed except the hearts of all in that place. Everyone who reads this, who tells the story to someone else, empowers change. Wouldn’t it be grand if we were Valentines forever?
Fran Salone-Pelletier has a master’s degree in theology and is the author of Awakening to God: The Sunday Readings in Our Lives [a trilogy of Scriptural meditations], lead chaplain at Brunswick Novant Medical Center, religious educator, retreat leader, lecturer and grandmother of four. She can be reached at email@example.com.