May 12, 2009

One more chance.

The waitress at the cafe in Alexandria was visibly tired. It was a slow night, so I told her that she was welcome to join me for my late-night coffee.

She had been working at this cafe for about six months. Before that, she had tried her hand working at a fancy restaurant. It hadn’t gone so well.

The story was sad and simple: it was her third day on the job at this expensive restaurant in Old Town, and her boyfriend had just broken up with her the night before. She hadn’t slept well, and was clearly distraught. Halfway through her shift, she was caught by a moment of emotional and physical weakness — and the tray that she was carrying came crashing to the ground.

The food on her tray had managed to completely cover three restaurant patrons, and in the process, she had knocked over a bottle of wine onto the lap of another. Everyone in the restaurant looked at her aghast when, instead of maintaining her composure and trying to fix things, she broke down in tears.

Apparently, the restaurant patrons had been quite vocal in their complaints; some of them had asked that she be fired immediately. The owner, understanding her situation and believing in her abilities — believing in who she was on the whole instead of focusing on the one mistake she made — decided to give her another chance at his small cafe in Alexandria.

Six months later, she was sitting with me, sipping coffee, at that same cafe. She was now more than just a waitress, but was also the night manager of the cafe and her regular patrons loved her. She had been given a second chance, and not only did she perform well, but she thrived and enjoyed her new work more than any other gig she had been given before.

Sometimes, that’s all someone really needs: a second chance.

It’s easy to form quick first impressions, especially when those impressions are based on mistakes or slips in character. It’s harder to give someone the benefit of the doubt: to give them a second chance.

The story of the waitress reminded me how lucky I have been to be on the receiving end of someone’s ability to look past my initial transgressions; despite certain things I have done or said that may have been detrimental to a professional or personal relationship, I have been blessed with second chances. Most of the time, what has come after that initial blip, that initial mistake, has been more fruitful and more fulfilling than anything before.

I spilled a bit of my coffee on my shirt (I’m clumsy, it happens) during my late-night chat with the waitress at the cafe. She didn’t mind — and told me to come back any time.

Thanks for giving me a second chance.