|In a green polyester uniform, amid a haze of fried oil, I stood behind the McDonald’s counter, my fingers flying over the register’s keys. It was 1983 and I’d forged my birth certificate to say I was fourteen, the legal working age.
Glancing at the line wrapping out the door, I simultaneously filled a Diet Coke, snapped a to-go bag open, and reached for the fries which stood at attention under the heater.
At the register next to mine, was Greg. Greg with his nerdy presence, his acne’d face, his sloth’s pace. I loathed shifts with Greg.
Then, just as the familiar feeling of judgement formed in my gut…a customer. She was tall and thin and in a hurry, but she had a specialty order. None of the stacks of the type of burger she ordered would do. She drummed her nails on the counter holding up my line, ruining my competition with myself, and when I asked her to step aside so the person behind her could order, she stared me down with a familiar disdain.
It was in this fracture of a moment that everything changed. I looked at Greg whose head was nearly inside a paper bag, pulling the burgers out, inspecting each one like they were rare insects. Slowly, he piled them back in, and when he unfortunately caught my eye, he smiled shyly in the way that never failed to make my stomach lurch.
But none of that mattered now. Unadulterated contempt had turned to warmth in my heart. Greg was not like this rude woman. Greg was on my side of the counter. This woman was the problem. For the rest of the shift, I noted Greg’s attention to detail with genuine appreciation.
It is a fact that we become addicted to our emotions, even the ones we hate experiencing – those maybe more than any.This means that it’s not the people around us or the things happening in the world that is creating our disdain, but rather it’s our need to feel annoyed, to feel above others, which has us finding the people places and things that will satisfy this craving. If we lose the objects which provide us the chemical hit we seek, we will find others. We will repeatedly feed an addiction we don’t even know we have. Unless of course… we choose to put our attention on our own self. (Gasp).
When I look around the world today, and how people are treating one another, when I see social media or the news, I don’t think about what side I’m on or what anyone else is doing.
I think about my walk home that day. Back then the green polyester was thick and airless, and I couldn’t wait to shed it, to rinse the grease smell out of my hair. But on this day my mind was preoccupied with the degree of my negative feelings for Greg and how quickly those feelings dissipated once there was another target for my contempt.
I can’t remember eighty percent of my childhood, but I have never forgotten this. As “right” as it felt to bond with someone over disliking someone else, and as strongly as I believed that fast food should be served fast, I knew I didn’t want to be the person I’d been that day.
I wish that’s all it took – one fleeting insight at thirteen years old and I mastered being my best self! That insight went buried for many years and still likes to bury itself today when I’m not looking. So, I just try to look more often now.