Last week I travelled to Los Angeles to teach a workshop. The workshop went well and the visit was fun, but I'll spare you a detailed account of the double decker bus tour with the tour guide who pointed out all the hotels and nightclubs where stars had fallen from suicide, or drugs, or had been kicked out for being rowdy. Instead, I want to tell you about an inner experience at breakfast, at a nice little hole-in-the-wall bakery shop.
The twenty-something waitress came to take our order. She seemed sweet and had a beautiful smile. Her smile was nice, but hey, lots of people have beautiful smiles, and hers was no more beautiful than usual.
I was with the guy who hosted the class. We ordered lattes and something to eat.. we were busy chatting about this and that when the waitress arrived back with the lattes, and magic happened.
Suddenly, I became acutely aware that something beyond the usual was going on inside me. Something in there was responding to the waitress, or rather, to her movement. Suddenly 100% of my conscious awareness was watching her as she unbelievably, beautifully, placed two broad shallow cups of brimming latte on the table, gently, as though they were sleeping babies, not spilling one drop; the surface tension held the edge.
She smiled through this. Clearly this required making an effort, yet she graciously cancelled out any sense of this being effortful as she slowed and steadied her body to accomplish this feat, this feat which in the moment suddenly seemed as difficult a feat as anything Cirque has ever required of its performers.
Maybe the proximity was a factor as well - her arm was only a few inches away from me. Perhaps there was a small element of danger: had she lost focus, the coffee would have slid over the edge of the cup. It likely would not have spilled completely in my lap or anything, but it would have dripped off the edge, and that would have been mildly unpleasant. Instead, she rode that razor's edge of possibility, masterfully interacted with gravity in a most pleasing manner, and pulled off the impossible - laid that latte down with grace and style, but not in any way that could have been misconstrued as showboating. It was a beautiful moment.
Then she did it again, for my host.
But she wasn't done yet - she had flatware to put down. You know how waitresses usually lay down flatware after doing it a couple thousand times - kinda perfunctory, letting the weight of the flatware have its way, saving themselves a bit of energy by letting gravity win a bit too soon..
Not our waitress. She floated those six pieces down as carefully as though she were landing six small jet planes filled with precious breakables, merging them into gravity, not giving up until the very last nanosecond. She floated those pieces down. She succeeded in forcing time itself to elongate, slightly, just long enough to give my critter brain time to experience something in the outer world on its own terms, for once, and mount a surprise emotional response.
What was this response? It was awe, joy, appreciation. I actually could feel tears come to my eyes. She had created a moment of beauty with her movement that was remarkable for having occurred in so banal a setting, extraordinariness framed by ordinariness, the juxtaposition of which was extra delight in itself.
I do not feel that way very often. I have never felt that way while being served coffee by any other waitress, ever.
Both of us felt her.
I asked her name - it was Antoinette. I remarked how marvelous it was that she had managed to not spill a drop. She said, "I'm studying dance which is kind of funny because the reason I chose dance is that I'm naturally quite clumsy. In fact a lot of dancers are clumsy, and that's why we choose dance, so we can learn how to overcome it."
Well, Antoinette, all I can say is thank you for the amazing, unforgettable, closeup experience of witnessing your use of your physicality to create a moment of beauty. If you ever audition for So You Think You Can Dance, I'm pretty sure the judges will see your talent, your "it" factor, feel moved by you, and pick you for one of those tickets to Las Vegas.
You made me feel a moment of pleasure in this world, for free! - a world in which it seems I spend most of my life fending off displeasure, and I liked it. I really, really liked it.
If I had another life to live, I'd want you for my mom in that next life.