I cannot remember the last time I did not say, “Thank you for your help. I appreciate you,” when someone helps me. As it turns out, my new friend Maria remembered it every time.
Maria works at an airport coffee shop. I have seen her for years as I travel often and regularly grab orange juice and a bagel before my morning flights. Most times it is Maria who helps me. I’ve always used the name on her name tag to thank her personally and make a little small talk while she is getting my order. Over the years, I have heard a little about her family, her crazy schedule at work, and other tidbits that, to be honest, meant little to me. I saw Maria, exchanged a few words, told her thank you, let her know she was appreciated, and was on with my day.
Last December, Maria told me she had something to give me for Christmas. I told her that while it was very kind, it was not necessary and thanked her for her generous thought. Shortly after that encounter, I did not see her again until late January. I did not think much of it, nor did I remember our last conversation, but I will never forget what she told me in January.
Maria always has a smile for me, but that time it seemed brighter. There was almost relief in her eyes as I approached the counter. “I am so happy to see you,” she said. “I have that gift for you.” She explained what she went through to get it.
As it turns out, Maria had been out sick the previous several weeks and was planning to quit her job but continued to work waiting to give me her gift. It was something that she was unable to find at a local store, but she found one online in an adjacent state and “put it in my GPS and drove to find it.” She explained, “It was raining, but this was what I wanted to find for you.” She brought it to work and left it with airport security where it sat for weeks.
I was blown away. I had not seen Maria in over six weeks and had given her little thought. Yet here was this person who clearly thought of me, even driving across two states in the rain, and then enduring extended time working at a job she planned to quit. The thought that I’d had such impact on someone I didn’t even know, beyond my morning juice and bagel, was extremely humbling.
As she gave me the gift, I spent some time with my new friend and asked her why she went to so much trouble for a person she hardly knew. She said it was because I was always kind to her. In her work, she rarely came across anyone who was kind. In fact, more often than not people tended to be rude. Most were so focused on themselves that they didn’t smile or say thank you. Many even talked down to her because of her accent.
An immigrant from Albania, Maria came to this country legally with her husband to start a new life. When she arrived, she knew little English. She worked the morning shift, from 4:00 a.m. to noon, and listened to everyone she met to try to pick up the English language. She and her husband only had one car, so she had to wait until 4:00 p.m. for him to pick her up. She used that time to study English, but embarrassed to be seen by her coworkers, she sat outside hoping they would not see her. When she arrived at home, she had two children to raise, took care of the home, then went off to bed to get back to work.
I know all of this and more about Maria because that time I took more than a minute to smile and say thank you. How could I not? This person who was so thoughtful and kind to me deserved at least that, don’t you think? How could you not want someone like this in your life, and how could you not be proud to call her a friend. This is the real gift from Maria. In fact, she and I remain friends and keep in touch, texting from time to time throughout the pandemic to check in on each other and our families.
We really have no idea the impact we have on other people. Your actions matter. Thoughtfulness counts, and kindness goes a long way—sometimes across two states in the rain.