For many years I was a waiter. It was my profession, but not my chosen profession. I was waiting because I believed I had to wait. My chosen profession was writing, but I was waiting to sell something, for the world of publishers and agents to give me what I wanted, and so in the meantime, while I waited, I waited, and I was often unhappy. While waiting, I served people. The easiest to serve were the people who knew the world brought them what they wanted. They forgave mistakes and assumed success, for they knew that whatever they asked for would come in time. The worst were those who did not trust the world to bring them what they wanted. They were looking for errors to prove the crowded world where the best tables were taken, the crowded world where orders were lost, would forget about them once again and they would have to wait and wait to get what they wanted.
It was my job to serve them all, to bring the trusting and the untrusting alike what they wanted. I hated the fear that lay behind the untrusting’s eyes. Did they not understand what a miserable life they were creating for themselves by not trusting that what they wanted would come? We called them Customers From Hell.
I needed to reassure the Customers From Hell that what they wanted would come. At first, I did this with ruthless efficiency. I still feared the CFH, but what they wanted came so fast and so accurately that they would not have time or reason to complain and spread their hellish view of the world. But efficiency driven by fear eventually undoes itself, and a plate is dropped, a steak overcooked. The CFH would blame me for not caring about them, and I would blame them for spreading their hellishness, and everyone was unhappy.
Then one day I decided to stop waiting. What I wanted was larger than anything a publisher or agent could bring me: I wanted anything I watered to grow. I saw then that I had watered the job of waiter and it had grown. If I could grow something I didn’t love, then I could just as easily grow something I did, but I could not wait for anyone to tell me whether or not the water was being wasted.
There was a short time after I had stopped waiting where I was still a server. These were the best and easiest months of all the years I had spent as a server, and I was often happy. I made more money than I had ever made and experienced diners began telling me I was the finest server they had ever had. When I approached a new table, instead of efficiency I would bring reassurance that everything these strangers wanted would come to them.
And sometimes these strangers would look up at me for the first time and something new would dawn on their faces: recognition. It was just that, as if I was a friend come to visit. We all want to see our friends, for they are the ones we love the most, and with our attention, with time spent together, that friendship grows. Hell is an unfriendly place where nothing grows. The light by which I found my way out of hell was bright enough for others to see, bright enough to recognize as the same light everyone is asking for. If the strangers were happy to see me, it was not because I had arrived to serve them, but to serve the light.