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During this past month or so, I’ve been lucky enough to serve at the Karma Kitchen in Berkeley every Sunday. It seems to have been my ‘karma’ to interact with one particular family on pretty much every occasion I have served.
This family was in stark contrast to the other Karma Kitchen guests I had encountered so far. They were unfriendly, had an attitude of entitlement and were impolite and impatient. In short, a very difficult table to connect with, not a single smile or thank you. Not exactly the kind of inspiration I had imagined when I signed up for Karma Kitchen volunteering.
Everytime I saw them again in the first few weeks I had pretty much the same experience of being completely unable to connect with them. It was clear to me that they were regulars at Karma Kitchen and yet they seemed to be completely unconnected with the concept. I mentioned this to the Maitre – D and last week, when they arrived, the Maitre-D greeted them with a warm hug. The father responded: "I don't do hugs". Not missing a step, the Maitre-D shot back with a beaming smile "But you must do smiles?". The father had no choice but to crack half a smile. After some TLC, they warmed up a bit.
Due to the long line, they didn’t eat in the restaurant that day, but we did get them some food to go. When I took it outside to give to them, the mother said to me: “you’re missing an earring?” After my initial confusion, I realised that was the first little connection I had had with them!
Then, this week, when they arrived, the same Maitre-D greeted the same man with the same bold hug: "Today, you're already smilin'. I think you're ready for a hug." He couldn't help but smile big -- and this time gave him a hug too :)
As I approached their table, the woman greeted me with a smile. I have to admit I was completely shocked. She followed this up with, “Did you find your earring?” More shock! She remembered that?! And they were actually talking -- they were polite, friendly and this time patient, even though there were delays with getting the food out. Unbelievable! At the end, I even got a “Thank you”! I was dumbfounded.
How incredible to see this change come over them over time - compassion really does work. Sometimes it takes time, but in the end, it’s such a powerful force.
--Aditi on Aug 9, 2010