Friday, September 21, 2012

She Said!

This week, while making conversation with the smiling young woman behind the counter at the fast food place, I noticed that she was working all alone. I do not know whether her colleagues failed to show up for this work shift (not so likely) or whether management had cut the work force down to one person (more likely). All I know is that she was required to do it all; while I talked to her, she worked non-stop -  taking orders, taking money, frying chicken, pouring soft drinks, cleaning tables, going to the supply room for more ice and frozen fries, pouring out used grease and deploying new grease. When the other customers left the counter and she presented me with my order, I said to her, “I can see that you are very busy. Thank you for your excellent service. I hope you get a chance to rest.” With something like a combination of shock and appreciation, she looked at me and said, in her broken English, “What we can do?”

Later that same day, I shared our apartment elevator with the Russian woman who lives upstairs. Before we reached my floor, I asked her, “How are you doing in these difficult times?” With a smile on her weary face, she responded, “I am fine! Crisis is for other people. I am optimist!”

Within just a few hours, presented to me were two quite common responses to the economic crisis that is shaking everyone in Greece. These responses mirror so much that characterizes our lives in this dysfunctional culture at this time. For many, there is resignation in the face of overwhelming difficulty - “What we can do?” And, for others, there is an intentional, personal decision to face the challenges with optimism – “Crisis is for other people. I am optimist!”

Of course, there is both truth and falsehood in these responses. My Russian friend is not “fine” in so many significant ways. She has had her wages cut and her taxes increased. Her future is uncertain. Much of her savings, if she has any, has been eroded by the economic instability and dysfunction of her adopted country; an increasing percentage of any discretionary income she might have is being used to meet daily expenditures. It is, of course, not true that the crisis is just “for other people.” Every person in Greece, including relatively privileged American ex-pats and marginalized Albanian immigrants, is powerfully and practically affected by the rising prices and decreasing opportunity of the current predicament. Everyone I know has asked the existential question in recent months – “What we can do?”

Laying aside these realities, however, I was encouraged by the hard scrabble responses of these two women. My friend at the fast food place has chosen to work harder and to maintain a smile. While this cannot entirely replace lost money or economic potency, it is an admirable response. Likewise, my Russian friend has recognized that attitudes are behavior tendencies. With a positive attitude, one is already leaning in the direction of a redemptive response to difficulty.

In both of these instances, my sense is that these women do not have a personal faith or a believing community to undergird their good responses to the current calamity. May God grant me the courage and discernment to demonstrate respectfully for them the Good News of a God who knows where they are, cares about their circumstances and is willing to strengthen them in their daily struggles!