It’s morning, and I’m in a bookstore to pick up a book by Brian Doyle, a writer with a genius to see just how magical the everyday world can be. “There are no little things or events,” he wrote. “None. I am beginning to suspect that this is the theme of everything I ever wrote or ever will write.” I’m beginning to think he’s right. Those little things, in fact, might be the only things.
I am in this bookstore first thing, so it is me and two stockers in the stacks. And there are three people waiting for breakfast at the coffee shop counter in the corner. You can smell scorched grain from their toasting bagels. It is quiet.
I must be the first customer of the day to approach the counter. There is one salesman behind the sales desk, and it looks like when you drive through the toll-road at 3 a.m. and there’s just the one booth lit up out of eight. I roll up and hand him my book, the one from Brian Doyle, and I’m still groggy as my brain mobilizes from mashed potatoes to something with a backbone attached, a process that takes several hours every day.
The salesman, somehow sensing the gravy sloshing around in my head, generously gives me a brief to-the-point greeting that requires no reply and manages the laser scanner and beeping and screen tapping with cheerful efficiency, he and I being the only people in the building at the moment who are involved in the actual selling of a book made out of paper.
And it’s just then that the phone behind him rings.
He chuckles and looks at me and says, “That phone hasn’t rung all morning.”
As if to say, “Isn’t it the darndest thing that just when you’re helping someone you get something beeping at you?” As if to say, “Isn’t life amusing?” As if to say, “Aren’t we in this together?” Which, of course, we are.
But he takes the bleeping clatter in stride and doesn’t answer it, because he’s busy helping a human being in front of him. And I hand him some plastic and he hands me some paper and I’m on my way.
I don’t know if someone else answered the phone, or if he took the message and returned the call, or if Jill from Cavendish, Vermont, will just have to call back another time to get her question answered. But I do know that he remained with me until we finished our small encounter.
And as I set my sail to be pulled into the rest of my workday, all I could think about was the salesman’s graceful presence, and how it told me that we’re in this together. Whatever flashing lights we hold in our hands or beeping noises rattle in our ears, we’re human beings standing in front of each other, right? We’re right here, together.
It was lovely to be in the presence of someone who was living in the present moment. The salesman gave me all of his attention, which is not to say that he smothered me with hospitality, it’s just to say that he refused to be in two places at once. And even my dimly-lit brain could recognize that he was preserving something between us — something in which our humanity grows and blooms — that is all too often neglected and if you don’t put a fence around an important thing like that, it just gets trampled and ground to dust.
Don’t we need this especially now, in this day and age? To treat each other like human beings — to be one person, undivided? Haven’t we always needed each other like this?
I’m here to tell you, it’s the simplest gift to give and receive.