In this novel that I am writing, one of the main characters owns and runs a cafe. I didn’t think she was going to be that important when I started but now that I am getting to know the characters better I find that she is pretty essential to my main character’s well-being, to the plot, to the whole thing, really! She might even be more important than the murder in my murder mystery. She’s a great person – I hope you love her when you finally get to read the book.
Anyway, DH suggested that maybe if I’m going to write about owning and running a cafe, I should learn something about the process. Just to make sure I wasn’t making any mistakes. I thought that was sensible advice so I took it. We have an friend that we know through church who used to own a cafe and I asked her if she would mind having a chat so that I could learn what it was like. She was very accommodating (I find that people generally like helping me out with this book thing, although it might just be that I have awesome and generous friends.) and we met today for coffee and a chat.
You know what? I found out that I know nothing at all about running a cafe! I hadn’t thought about rosters, about debtors and creditors, and ordering in food. I hadn’t thought at all about having cooks working in the kitchen – heaven’s knows where I thought the food would come from! Perhaps I thought it just cooked itself! I hadn’t thought about much beyond what you see as a customer in the cafe and there is so much going on behind the scenes.
She told me a story about a lady who came into her cafe with her daughter. My friend asked the daughter what she would like to be when she grew up. The little girl said that she would like to work in a cafe. Her mother said, ‘well, I think you’re too smart for that!’ Apart from that being terribly insulting to my friend, the other thing is that this woman really didn’t understand the layers of complexity involved in running one’s own business. The health and safety regulations, the superannuation, the budgeting. There is so much involved and so much brain required.
It’s like that for many of the businesses we see – we only see the smooth sailing of the duck on the top of the water – we don’t see the paddling like crazy that happens underneath. We often don’t appreciate the amount of work that is going into giving us a reasonable customer experience.
And as we talked I realised that I knew nothing at all about what was going on behind the scenes in my friend’s life. I didn’t know (until today) anything about her struggles, her family, her ups and downs. All I knew was that she was a stylish, friendly and generous lady. I knew the smile, but I didn’t know the pain behind it. I would never have got to know without taking the time to have coffee and a chat but I’m so glad I took the time. Now this woman is one of my heroes. She has gone through so much and come up smiling and she deserves so much respect for that.
There’s a saying that the most complex fictional character is less complex than the simplest of real people. Each one of us have lives that may look simple on the surface but are so much more complex underneath. Each of us has our own battles to face, our own struggles to learn through, our own difficult people to work with.
I guess I’ve just been reminded today that I can only see the surface and that you can’t judge by the surface. We don’t really have a clue what’s going on underneath and we might just be horrified if we did. Maybe we should treat each other with grace, kindness and respect at all times, just in case!