Thursday, January 27, 2011

Finding Zen in the Diner ~ by Jeanne Fry

Finding Zen in the Diner
Who would have expected to stumble upon a spiritual moment in this busy lunchtime diner? On the quest to find a renovated mill, now turned Art Gallery, frustration was building as we drove in circles thinking surely the next turn would be the one that brought us to our destination. After an hour of this endless spiral pattern we decided to stop at a little diner in the downtown that was packed for the Friday lunch hour.

Almost all of the tables were filled and we were led immediately to a tiny two-seater booth in the back near the kitchen. Our waitress quickly came to greet us in a warm southern fashion and was soon off to get our iced teas and put in our order.

Now that we were waiting for our drinks and trying yet again to decipher the directions that were given to us for the old mill, I started absorbing in the activity that surrounded me. There were frosted white Plexiglas dividers between the booths adorned with small Santa Claus cling-ons that were so faded that I’m sure that they were saved year after year. Pictures of old muscle cars in plastic frames hung on the walls, and some kind of trophies lined the back counter.

Our waitress returned with the tea, smiling and laughing, and preceded to tell us that she has just received the best Christmas present she had ever gotten from a customer…a fur coat. She was so excited and proud as she told us it was a $200 coat and that all of the other waitresses wanted it for themselves. She pointed it out for us to see, lying over the back counter. From where I sat, it didn’t look like an extremely expensive coat, but it certainly made her day, and that’s all that mattered. She left us to our tea and raced off to another customer.

I started to scan the room, taking in the hustle and bustle of the lunchtime crowd. This diner was a melting pot for the city: business men in suits, middle-aged women taking a break from holiday shopping, eclectic looking twenty-somethings that were surely rising artists, construction workers, and old couples who made this stop a routine in their lives. Conversations were loud and excited and ranged from local politics to busy traffic, business to creative arts, and the economy to shopping lists. Back in the kitchen you heard the hurried clatter of dishes and laughter about stories from the night before, and that one waitress that endlessly went on about the fact that they were out of cornbread and it was only 11:30.

The activity was overwhelming, causing me to just silently sit and ponder over this diner that was probably filled with a hundred people. But instead of feeling lost in a sea of faces, it felt like a really large family get-together. My gaze kept wandering over to a man sitting at the counter, dressed in a uniform that looked like the ones that auto parts dealers wear. He was sitting alone, well, as alone as you could be here in this restaurant, and had just been served his food. His head was bowed, hands in lap, and he was praying before his meal. Slowly he prepared to eat. He seasoned his food with the small set of salt and pepper shakers ever so gingerly and rearranged his food on his plate making sure that each thing was exactly where he wanted it. He slowly cut pieces of his food and slid them into piles on his plate and laid his silverware out with the utmost care. He was seemingly unaware of the intense action that surrounded him, as if he was in his own world entirely. Watching the graceful slowness of his movements reminded me of watching a Japanese Tea Ceremony, peaceful and serene. Each bite that he took was purposeful and he chewed slowly and methodically, laying his fork down between each bite.

This man was perfectly content and purely living in the moment. He didn’t feel the need to read the newspaper while he ate or chat with the neighboring customer; instead he gave his food his focused attention.

He was Zen in the middle of chaos, and while most others were unaware of his very existence, I was aware, and thought to myself “Namaste. Whatever your appearance, I see and greet the soul in you”.

Diner culture has always intrigued me. More times than not, I choose to seek out these local spots to eat at, shunning away the fast food joints or high priced chains. There’s something special about these historic eateries.

Many have asked what my attraction is to ‘Diner Culture’, and I guess after consideration I would have to say that is makes me feel like I am close to home. I treasure the sense of diversity that can be found here, diversity much different than in other public places. In the diner you can find a conglomeration of cultures without pretense, so natural, defenses down and full of the integrity of humanness. Intrigued by watching how we as human beings interact with one another, studying character, and how we all intermingle and find a peace with others and ourselves is one of my passions.

(c) Copyright Jeanne Fry 2008

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