I used to be a more “serious” bicyclist. Cool gear, longer distances, group events, fundraising rides. Now I’m a pleasure rider, and I’m amused when some of the serious bikers pass me by. There they are in their color-coordinated bike wear, hunkered down and cruising at a speed I mostly only see now when I go downhill. In comparison, I’m wearing whatever tank shirt and shorts I was just wearing in the garden, moving at a slower pace because I’m nursing a recent minor knee injury and, well, let’s face it, I’m sightseeing, bird watching, and saying hello to any dogs, horses or sheep I pass. And the best gear I’m sporting now is this helmeted squeaky rubber ducky on my handlebars. He may be the reason the other bikers don’t always wave back.
I’ve learned that life is too short to always be so serious. Yes, sometimes it is required – like when training for a marathon, battling health concerns or dealing with some legal issue. There’s nothing more frustrating than trying to have a serious conversation with someone who won’t stop making jokes. But the older I get, the less I want to be solemn, and the more I seek out levity.
Last weekend we had some out of town friends come to visit. We took them out to dinner, and our Server was rushed and distracted, possibly stressed, and well…serious. While taking our orders, she ran through the specials and options quickly, barely making eye contact. One of our friends told her he was having a hard time hearing her because of her mask. Instantly she went on the defensive, explaining she has two young kids at home who aren’t old enough to be vaccinated, and she can’t risk them getting sick, so she has to wear a mask. Our friend had not at all intended to make some sort of anti-mask statement, he was just honestly telling her he couldn’t understand her.
We’ve all been there, haven’t we, ladies? When life is feeling just like a bit too much, and you just aren’t feeling positive and friendly. Perhaps she is a single mom. Clearly she is worried about her kids because, well, that’s what we do is worry. Maybe she’s a caregiver for an elderly parent too. Perhaps she had worked several shifts in a row and was just plain tired. Or had a headache. Or was ridiculously sick of having to wear a mask. Food Service is a hard job. Even though the dining room wasn’t busy, there was a wedding reception going on in the other area of the restaurant, and maybe she had been earlier pulled into that craziness. We can never know in an instant all that another person may be carrying around with them. We all understand, however, that it can be really easy to slip into being preoccupied and get lost in a sea of seriousness – and needing some sort of life raft to find lightheartedness again.
Especially when your job responsibilities require being pleasant and approachable, getting stuck in a morass of somber is not a good thing. That night at the restaurant, both my husband and his friend then took her mood on as a challenge, determined to get some pleasantness out of her. We wouldn’t be able to see if she was smiling, but if we could get her to slow down just a bit and ease the crease between her eyes, it was worth a try. Eventually it worked. She discovered our friends were from California, and that was the ice-breaker. Her mom lives on the west coast, and soon she was taking a few minutes to chat about different towns and areas she had visited. Through the common ground of geography, travel and family, her cloud lifted.
Finding a simple connection can work wonders. Years ago I had a coworker who was on the sales team, and he regularly had meetings with a very brusque, no nonsense customer. She seemed to have no interest in levity or friendliness, and gave out an aura of stuffy seriousness. Until one day it happened – he connected with her about her dogs. It was like the flip of a switch and she became engaged and downright pleasant. It became a running joke between he and I that he was going to download photos of every breed of dog, cat, guinea pig or even iguana, so he could use pets as the common ground. “Oh, you have a basset hound? That’s amazing, so do I!” swipe-swipe-swipe-swipe – “See?”
Lord knows there’s a lot of tough stuff in our world, and we’ve all been through some really really challenging months. Now it kind of feels like many of us are starting to come out of our cocoons of gloom. Others of us are still needing a little help in learning how to squint into the sunlight. Sometimes an unexpected friendly connection, a laugh, or a great story can help remind us to not take EVERYTHING. SO. SERIOUSLY.
So to those of you who still feel the need to stay tucked in, pedaling hard, pushing against the wind – may the force be with you. Me and my ducky will be roaming our way towards the sunset.