Why You Should Sneak into the Kitchen During a Wedding Reception

During a wedding reception today, my youngest was fascinated by the food servers.  They’d disappear behind swinging doors and return with iced tea at exactly the same time you needed more.  After the cake cutting, several servers took the cake away on a little silver cart.
“Mommy, where are they taking it? When am I getting my piece of cake?”
As we waited, she became more and more agitated about the cake, her piece of it, and what in the world was happening behind those swinging doors to the kitchen. As a way to pass the time, I helped her try to imagine the secret world of reception hall kitchens.
“Can’t we just go back there?” she asked. 
I asked one server if we could watch the cake being cut for the guests, and he reluctantly agreed.   We tip-toed  back, deep into the heart of the kitchen, lifting our dresses to keep them out of the way.
Seven sweaty servers, like nervous surgeons, stood around this delicate and elaborate cake. My daughter peeked around my back to view this inverted perspective of wedding receptions. Back here, in the heat and pressure of food service, the reception experience was being made for the rest of us by real people.  Tired people.  People who looked up at us, embarrassed, like we’d just caught them all skinny dipping.  
They apologized for not working faster. 
When we returned to our table, my daughter waited with her hands in her lap. She didn’t say a word. The cake came in due time, and instead of just enjoying it, she appreciated it. 

Sometimes I need to remember to take myself and others back behind an experience—to see how it’s being made for us. There’s an infrastructure to our lives that other people make on their backs.  It’s not just food service.  It’s any service that we take for granted that makes our days happen.  Someone is picking up the garbage, sorting the recycling, delivering my mail, or keeping the street lights working.  Maybe I wouldn’t demand so much if I could just journey back and see what’s going on from a different perspective.

Living with flair means to sit with my hands in my lap and not demand my piece of cake.


Prepare for Flair

There’s this trick I use to help me prepare for flair.  I assume I’m going to be amazed by anyone or anything.  It could happen at any time: when I’m frying an egg, putting on socks, or standing in line somewhere.  If anything, I’m learning the obvious truth that things aren’t what they seem.

I keep needing to learn this. 

The semester ended today.  I gathered final papers, shook hands, agreed to write recommendations, and voiced all the usual blessings a college professor might give.  Mostly, though, I recalled how much this particular group of students surprised me.

Living with flair means I throw out the stereotypes.  I abandon presuppositions.  I used to scan a room of people and determine, in advance, what sort of students they’d be:  the fraternity boys would be late every morning; the tattooed and pierced would be angry and defiant; the military students would be prompt and tidy; the athletes would be ambitious but average as writers; the quiet girls in the back wouldn’t engage with me all semester.

I know stereotypes exist for a reason.  They might be generally true.  But this semester, I discovered every single exception to the rules of how types of people behave.  Nobody acted like they were supposed to.  The soldiers came late, and the fraternity boys wrote the most compelling papers, on time, and with flair.  The tattooed and pierced were the most loving and compliant of all.  The athletes were the best writers.  The shy girls provided ongoing humorous commentary.

I’ve learned to assume nothing.  This prepares me to receive the extraordinary moment when it comes.  When I tell that thing or that person what it represents–without giving it a chance to amaze–I’m sabotaging all the flair. 

I’ve been hanging out with strangers all day (hence the late blog post).  I’m in a wedding party with lots of folks I’ve never met.  When I met each new person, I prepared for flair by imagining how great this person must be, anticipating all the wisdom and inspiration they possess, and doing all I could to draw it out.   That’s the secret to friendship, teaching, marriage, parenting, and even my relationship to myself.   No need for stereotypes.  No need for judgments.

I just want to prepare for flair.