It happened at a cake bar,
across the bridge in Regensburg, Germany: it was already dark outside, and there were only a few pieces of cake left as my sister, mom, dad and I wandered inside. We spoke a little German, but not much, and the worker switched to speaking his effortful English for us. When we said we wanted to sit outside not knowing they had already closed the area, he went and got a key to unlock the chairs from the table, pulling them out for each of us, despite our protests that really, we could sit inside instead. Then he went back inside and got four blankets for us to cover up with. On yet another trip outside, his co-worker brought out four little glasses of water, even though we had never asked for any. Then he lit a candle and put it on our table.
This was not even a place where it cost half your weekly paycheck to eat cake. It was a humble little place cut out from a hole-in-the-wall corner building, where the average person could afford to let theirself eat cake, too.
And their hospitality was not because we are American (thank goodness). As we ate our (delicious) cake, we watched one of the men running the shop help an older German customer who was leaving into his coat. We watched the other worker come out from around the counter to hold the door for a middle-aged customer going home for the evening. Then we listened as he answered (in his non-native English) my questions about the church bells ringing throughout the city longer at certain times of the day, elaborating and taking time with us, remaining there through pauses in conversation, rather than rushing away.
I felt seen. Appreciated. Acknowledged as a unique human being in the world with individual concerns and needs.
It was like these two hip, tattooed, late-twenty-something men had agreed that morning: today, we’re going all out. We’re going to anticipate people’s needs and meet them before they ask, so the people who walk through our door feel taken care of, known and wanted. Today, we’re going to put ourselves and our own needs, cares and tiredness aside and go above and beyond to serve people.
And they did so with joy. They did it as if their job was not to make and sell cake; it was to love people. It just so happened cake was their medium.
For the 45 minutes I witnessed and experienced their hospitality, I felt like I had a place in that foreign country. A home. It had me dreaming with my sister as I walked back over the bridge of moving across an ocean to work at a cake bar, so I could be a part of sharing that love, too.
Of course, cake isn’t my medium, and we can be lovers right where we’re at, wherever we’re at in the world (so I’m glad I didn’t start filling out any work visa applications.) What matters is not so much how we love people, but just that we love people, with whatever means we have. For some people, that’s cake. For others, it’s words. For still others, it’s drywall or dance or detergent. People have dignity and work has dignity; when we take pride in that and use whatever we do to make people’s lives better in even the smallest of ways, we can create places for people to belong, even just for the few minutes they interact with us. We can interact with people in a way that receives. We can be creators of belonging.
So today, whether you’re teaching kids or mopping floors or crunching numbers, do something that matters in the world: put a little love into it.