"Wow! What is that on your belt buckle?" she exclaimed as she peered over her reading glasses from behind the cash register. I was in Atlanta, connecting to Nashville, with a 3 hour layover. Its a mule, Ma'am. "A mule!? What's a mule?" A mule is a cross between a donkey and a horse. I raise them and train them. "Really!... I never heard of that! Now what you go and do that for? I mean, why you do that? Is it like...a...business?...hear that girls? He raises MULES!" By this time, the line behind me has started to get impatient. Airports aren't places to hold up traffic. So I stepped aside and said, go ahead and take care of the line and I'll answer your questions when there is a break. "OK. But don't you go anywhere, til you tell me what you do with those mules now, ya hear?"
For the next half hour, I watched Kim take care of customers, one at a time. She found one special thing about each person to whom she served refreshement--their hair, their dress, where they were headed, and then she paid them a sincere complement, usually getting a surprised look. Several times we tried to catch a moment to resume our conversation, but the line kept coming. I marveled at the smiles she pulled out of each customer inside one of the most impersonal places of American Life--an international airport. Finally, I just ordered my smoothie and explained that the mules were partly for raising my kids, and partly a way for me to explore the wilderness that surrounds my home in the West. But that answer seemed to provoke even more curiosity. Since the line of customers behind me was never going to allow us to fill in the details, I left her with a handwritten note and directions to see "Longears and Sourdough" for its pictures and stories.
As I walked away, I thought about how beautiful it is to see someone who conducts their job, whatever it is, with such grace, that you feel like you have been in the presence of greatness upon the observance of their expertise. Kim, I watched you bring a moment of happiness to everyone you served--strangers all, but friends when they left your deli in concourse C, grinning. For me, it was a mule on a buckle and your curiosity that sparked my smile. But it was the milk of human kindness you showed for the masses of strange faces who you will never see again, that made my smile last far after I boarded my flight to Nashville.