Thursday, April 12, 2012
A Surprise in the Men's Room?
I’m sitting in the airport in Charlotte waiting to board a plane to Little Rock, Arkansas and though I may not get to post this until later tonight, I’m so excited about an experience I had this morning that I need to write about it right now. Here’s what happened:
My flight from Philadelphia arrived here a good 45 minutes early so I have plenty of time before my next flight departs. After departing the airplane, I stopped at the nearest men’s room. In most the of restrooms in the Charlotte airport, they have attendants who hand out paper towels and things like that, and of course, they have a tip jar sitting there. I usually find this a bit annoying since I can get my own paper towels and don’t like feeling obligated to leave a tip for something I didn’t need or want. This time it was different though.
Everyone who walked in was met with the most enthusiastic greeting by the attendant. Wearing a name tag that read "Jeffrey", he smiled and joked with everyone and seemed to be about the happiest guy I had ever seen. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen someone so full of genuine joy. I made a little small talk with him and then was on my way. As I headed on the fairly lengthy walk to the E terminal for my next flight, I couldn’t stop thinking about how unusual this man was. It occurred to me that I was missing an opportunity to meet someone special and so I turned around and headed all the way back to where I had been 10 minutes earlier.
When I got there I introduced myself to Jeff and told him that I was so impressed with his enthusiasm and wanted to know more about him and his attitude. He told me that he figures “heaven and hell are right here on earth” and he “might as well choose heaven.” “There ain’t no other way,” he said. He told me that he just chooses to spread love every day. “I could be shoveling *&^%* and I’d do it great,” he explained. He truly was a remarkable man. As I gave him my Kindness card and told him that I wanted to write about him, a man who had overheard our conversation walked by and told Jeff that he was inspiring a lot of people. He said that while I was going to write about him, he was going to tell his team at work about Jeff! I gave Jeff a healthy tip and we shook hands.
After writing all this, I realized that I should have gotten a picture of him. So I walked all the way back one more time (!) and he posed for the picture I’ve included with this post. I was hoping he’d be around when I pass through again tomorrow night so I could learn more, but he told me that he’s off on Fridays and Saturdays.
There’s so much that’s great about this story. Of course, the heart of it is Jeff and what we can all learn from him. I’ve often said that greatness is a choice. Jeff makes that choice each and every day. As he noted, he’d choose to be great no matter what he was doing. Kindness is also a choice. Like greatness, we all have the ability to make that choice regardless of our job, our age, our socio-economic status, our religion, our nationality or anything else. It’s simply a choice we make. And it’s a daily choice. No matter what choices we may have made in the past, we can choose to be kind today.
The other thing that was significant about this story was that I didn’t let the opportunity to get to know Jeff pass me by. I almost did. I met him the first time and left without making the effort to connect in a deeper and more personal way. After all, he was just the attendant in a men’s room in the Charlotte airport. And I was already 10 minutes away by the time I started to consider it more seriously. It would have been much easier to simply keep going.
But to think of Jeff as just a “men’s room attendant” would be completely missing the point. He’s an amazing, energetic, enthusiastic, soulful man who’s making the world a better place every single day. And I’m better for having gotten to know him just a bit.
One final thought from this morning’s encounter: I wonder how many other times we “label” people by their job and, as a result, fail to truly consider the fullness of their humanity. I’m going to try to be better about that in the future.