I arrived at the Las Vegas airport before dawn and decided to grab some food before my flight to San Antonio. A sign for breakfast burritos caught my eye. My order was steak, eggs, cheese, and green salsa, filled by a woman who wore a black COVID mask. She deftly browned the tortilla on a large skillet, ladled the ingredients inside, then folded it with a flourish, lifting it for me to see.
“Now that’s a perfect burrito,” she said with a laugh.
I looked at its round curvature and finely tucked edges.
“It is indeed,” I replied with a chuckle. “Fit for a promo video!”
She laughed again, bagged my prize, then handed it to me. I paid my bill and walked away, but her comment stuck with me.
Why? Let me explain.
Mindfulness of the here and now is beautiful, even necessary, and people use various techniques to increase their mental acuity. Meditation, yoga, walks in nature, even apps designed to interrupt our daily tasks and refocus our attention.
Whatever the method, may they help us pass the most enduring test—to find pleasure in the midst of the mundane. To become present as we mow our lawns, change our baby’s diapers, wait at stoplights, or load our dirty laundry. These are the moments that make up our lives.
The woman who served my breakfast may feel that she’s found her life’s calling, but I highly doubt it. Most likely she is performing a minimum wage job filled with a vastness of potential tedium.
And yet, the finely crafted burrito, brandished for me to see! A flash of humor and celebration! With gratitude, I let her enthusiasm enrich my own enjoyment of the moment.
As my plane lifted into a sky filled with clouds, my mind cast back to another person whose presence in his routine lifted the spirits of countless people. He was a toll booth operator on the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, northernmost span across the San Francisco Bay. During a year of my seminary education, I used that passage to attend my internship. My return trips coincided with his evening shift.
I would pull up, offer my fare, and he would do two things EVERY TIME. First, he would make direct eye contact. Secondly, he would say, “You have a blessed evening.” Words like that sound hollow if offered superficially. From him they always seemed sincere. And their effect on me was like a tonic, turbocharging the rest of my drive across the bridge, a shining example of how small gestures offered in the crush of daily life can radiate positivity to others.
In one of my most popular posts from 2020, The Unspiritual Spirit, I quoted the late Thich Nhat Hanh about his fellow community members at the International Plum Village Community of Engaged Buddhism. These are words worth repeating.
“When we wash dishes…it is to live every minute of the washing. Wash each bowl…in such a way that joy, peace, and happiness are possible. Imagine you are giving a bath to the baby Buddha. It is a sacred act. I have arrived. I am home. Through these two phrases, you can experience a lot of joy and happiness.”
After my return to the Alamo City, I spent the next day planting spring flowers in my backyard. I always mix a blend of potting soils in a large container, running my fingers through the granular dirt, kneading it like a baker. This time, I lifted a handful, remembering the face of that woman at the Las Vegas airport.
I laughed and said, “Now that’s a perfect fistful of soil!”