After breaking into tears in Pancheros a year ago, I’ve largely avoided going there. I did feel led to send a thank you after an employee there hugged me and gave me free lunch shortly after brain surgery and our family dog dying. In my thank you, I shared that my mom underwent brain surgery a couple of weeks later. I expressed my gratitude for her kindness and thoughtfulness and humanness.
In the year since then, I’ve gone in a few times. But when she was working behind the counter, I avoided eye contact. Another time, when she started walking around the tables, I left hurriedly to avoid talking to her.
You see, I like hiding behind words written in thank you cards and on online platforms. Whether because of introversion or insecurity or impatience, I dislike having in-person conversations with those who know bits of my life but still care deeply about me. I feel it at Pancheros. I feel it when I go to my hometown church. I feel it when I run into a blog reader at a conference. I feel it when I see an old classmate at Target.
I like sharing about myself and then dodging your further questions. I like making you like me and relate to me and care about my life without having a two-way conversation about the sadness I’ve felt while pursuing a much-delayed adoption or the fear I felt being told I had a brain tumor or the selfishness I’ve discovered within myself as a new mother. But it’s lonely and it’s sad and it’s pathetic.
A few days before we heard we had been chosen at Milo’s adoptive parents, I stopped at Pancheros for lunch in the middle of a bunch of errands. I was wearing the same royal blue coat I was wearing the day I broke into tears. My coat triggered the Pancheros lady’s memory. While yet again sitting with my back turned from the front, she came up to me.
“I’m sorry if this is awkward, but did you come in here about a year ago after brain surgery and your family pet dying?” “Yes,” I said, embarrassed. “Oh my goodness,” she said, sliding into the seat across for me. “You look great! How are you feeling? “How is your mother?” “Did your parents get a new dog?” “I am so happy to see you are well.”
We had a brief but meaningful conversation before I finished my lunch. This time, I waved to her as I left and got in my car smiling. Her unexpected kindness one year later touched me in a way I was not expecting from a lunchtime stop at Pancheros. The way she set down what she was doing, approached me, and showed care for me surprised me in the midst of errands at other places with disengaged employees and rude customers. I wished very much I had introduced myself much sooner.
I’m not quite sure if it’s introversion or insecurity or impatience that has previously kept me from these kinds of conversations in different settings. And I’m embarrassed to admit it could be all three of those. But my dear Pancheros lady has taught me much about the ways brief interactions can mean much in the life of a person.
Today, when I went into Pancheros, I kept my head up, looked her right in the eyes, smiled, and asked how she was doing.