I have to admit that my ego’s feathers get a little ruffled when I take a job serving for a caterer. I don’t like to admit that, but it’s true so it feels good to admit. I take a deep breath, consider what the extra finances will pay for, and that sense of relief helps me feel good about doing it. It’s not that the work is hard or uncomfortable or unpleasant. It’s just that I grew with the expectation that if you went to college, especially a good college, that you were entitled to a “good” job. A salaried job. A job with benefits. A job where you might need to consider what you wear to work, and not because they might get food all over them. When I was a kid my dad told me that if you didn’t want to end up waiting tables you needed to go to college. But my dad was not the only person in this country or world who did not consider waiting tables a suitable enterprise for his progeny. Ironically college graduates are having a hard time finding jobs waiting tables, so that didn’t quite work out how we planned.
Anyway, just a few months ago I said out loud to myself and another friend or two, which is hilarious now, that I thought I was done with catering. I didn’t want to do it anymore. As I held my nose perhaps a little too high in the air I reasoned that I would find another way to pay my bills if necessary. This is when creator laughs and goes, “Oh yeah? Let’s see…”
So needless to say I’m serving again. There is still a part of me that twitches a little when I take a job, it’s the part of me that learned that serving is not beautiful, admirable or a perfectly respectable occupation. But the reality is that when I arrive at a job the experience of serving is actually quite beautiful. There is a sort of incredible honor and grace to forgetting oneself and thinking only of the needs of others. Granted, these particular others are usually middle or upper class adults who are not needy in the traditional sense, but that conception misses greater questions and opportunities- is receiving service about deserving or needing it? Are those to whom some malady has occurred the only people to whom service is honorable? Is there not a sort of purity in the act of service itself?
I think there are two separate ideas here: 1. I don’t think the practices of giving or of serving are just about helping people in need. I think there is an honor and beauty to losing oneself in the act of service that does not depend on the recipient, and certainly not on their socio-economic status. 2 I believe that even those who are very well off can be in need of kindness, attentiveness, and indeed, humanization.
I also believe that acts of service that come from the heart plant seeds of generosity, truth, and understanding that can grow into fruiting trees.
Providing intentional, caring, focused service is also a transcendence of sorts. It is one thing to identify where the ego is triggered, and another to then go into a space where the wants, needs, desires, and impulses of the ego are abandoned. I often come out of these jobs feeling energized, lighter, and ready to take on anything. Even when someone is acting like a pill or being downright rude, in returning the behavior with kindness and joy there is a pleasure, an energetic jiu jitsu of moving like water around the slight as though there was not a self to be hurt by the energetic onslaught. It may occur to me that this person is wielding their power irresponsibly, but I know that the best thing for both of us is for me to not to grant them the power to hurt or offend but to see right through the manner in which the message was delivered to the need underlying it.
I love the act of attending to people, of listening, of smiling, of losing myself in the role of serving. You see there can be a power dynamic, or there can be an equal relationship. In the relationship between server and served there is not necessarily anything but an agreement that one is going to attend to certain needs and wants while the other rests and enjoys. Don’t we have this in other relationships of equality? With partners? With parents? With friends? There is nothing necessarily different about this dynamic in a restaurant or at an event.
Yet sometimes people see the agreement that I have made to serve and they abuse it. The agreement they believe they are in is one more similar to a master and servant. I hesitate to say slave, though energetically it descends from that mentality. I can do whatever I want to you, and treat you inhumanly because I am in the role of dictating to you what I want. This kind of interaction can be dangerous for servers if they don’t know how to differentiate themselves from what other people think of them; they may adopt the role this person has projected on them or reject it but still react in relationship to it thereby giving it power. In either of those scenarios we feel less human or less ourselves afterward. I think we’ve all done this in one scenario or another because this is actually a risk in general; if you don’t know who you are and someone treats you in a way that belies an expectation of a certain role, it’ll be more difficult to refrain from adopting the role and its accompanying expectations.
While I know that serving is not my life’s calling and that there will probably be a time when I won’t have the time to do it anymore, without a doubt it is my ego that is resistant to doing it now. And to be honest, I’m glad I’m given regular opportunities to challenge it, to bump up against my own prejudices and those of others. Regularly serving people keeps me aware of how deep the issue of class is ingrained in both they and I; it provides me a very small taste of what most people living in this world experience, a lived experience of class consciousness. It in no way compares or gets close to the extremes that exist in this world, but energetically I begin to understand in a different way what that means.
That is part of why I love to serve, I love that it reminds me of the work I have left to do, and the work we still have left to do. Of what we have and what we could create in this world. But I really love to serve because I love to serve.