Lunch at MacDonalds

By Bob Peterson

Mike looked at his watch. "Two O'Clock!" he exclaimed, "That's just not fair!" He had been in the computer room all day trying to solve a problem with a complex set of computer programs that went haywire for a customer.

He felt as if something or someone had cheated him out of five hours. It had seemed that he had just sat down in the computer room a few minutes before. His mind and body raced, and he had nothing to show for all his efforts. And now it was suddenly two O'Clock in the afternoon. This pause was just long enough to wake up his growling stomach which protested bitterly against having missed lunch. He thought for a moment about skipping lunch today, but decided he would probably work better with a full stomach.

He got up and walked out of the computer room. He walked to his office, picked up his jacket and headed out the door. He got on his motorcycle and drove toward fast food alley. As he passed each of the fast food restaurants, nothing appealed to his appetite. Every day he went to the same fast food restaurants, hoping to find some compromise between speed and good food. He avoided MacDonalds because he didn't like the crowds. But today Mike was so sick of the other restaurants in the area, he decided to give MacDonalds another chance.

He was the last person in a long line of people waiting to give their food orders to the cashiers. Patiently, he thought about his computer problem as the line grew shorter and shorter. Finally he got to the front of the line and he stood facing the cashier.

Mike looked carefully at the cashier. The cashier was a woman about seventy-five years old who had bright white hair, combed neatly back under her cap. Her face and hands were wrinkled with age. Mike paused to think about the cashier. He wondered why someone that age would be working at a fast food restaurant. "Can I take your order, sir?" the cashier asked pleasantly. The cashier's voice was rough with age. Mike's curiosity got the best of him. Finally he swallowed his pride and asked, "Would you like to have lunch with me? I'm buying." The cashier was pleased and Mike saw a twinkle in those old eyes.

A few minutes later, Mike was sitting across the table from the cashier. "My name is Mike Downing. What's your name?" he asked as politely as he could. The cashier studied Mike's face carefully for a while and answered. "The name's Ferguson. Jackie Ferguson."

Mike was nervous. He wasn't quite sure how to start out this conversation. He knew what he wanted to ask, he just didn't know how to ask politely. Jackie saw his dilemma and kept the conversation warm. With a smile of knowingness, she said, "Tell me, young man, why did you want to talk to me?" "To tell you the truth, I was just curious. All I wanted to know was, why do you work for MacDonalds? Is it because you need the money? Are you too poor to retire? I would certainly think that a person your age wouldn't need to work. You could collect social security, or maybe some pension." Mike tried to imagine himself in forty years, working for MacDonalds. What could drive a person to do it? Mike didn't give Jackie a chance to talk; he continued with his conjecture. "Don't you have any marketable skills? You must have had a job before this one. Why did you leave it? What could have possibly befallen you to make you leave your job and start working for MacDonalds? Maybe you do it because you're bored with life. Maybe you retired once, but that became too boring, so you decided to get a job. But why MacDonalds? I just don't understand. MacDonalds isn't easy work. All day long you're standing on your feet. All day long you're forced to deal with demanding people. All day long you're forced to clean up after people who aren't any better than children. Every day you must be taxed to your limits, trying to please the customers. Why, it must be hell. I could understand it if you worked anywhere else, but not here."

Jackie looked right into Mike's eyes with a gentle smile. "You're a very observant young man. You've come up with some good points. You've been staring the answer right in the face, but you've missed the point entirely." Mike was taken aback. Jackie sure talks big, Mike thought, for someone who works at MacDonalds.

"Before I tell you why I work here, let me ask you this," she said. "Why do you work with computers for a living?" Mike replied, "I don't know exactly. I guess I enjoy working with computers. It's a challenge. It gives me a sense of accomplishment. And because it's what I do best."

Then the oddity of her question hit Mike. "How did you know I work with computers?"

"My dear wonderful Mike. I don't just look...I see. You aren't seeing the whole picture. Your view of this reality is too limited. Your mind doesn't reach far enough. It's like trying to fit a 24-bit number in a 16-bit word. You lose information. When you learn to let go of your boundaries, your problems will solve themselves and you will find the magic in life."

In the twinkling of those old eyes Mike knew how to fix his computer problem at work: make his program use 24-bit integers instead of 16-bit.

But Jackie continued, "You know what I think? I think you work with computers because that is your focus for helping people. You solve one computer problem and you help thousands of people across the world who use the computer. You add a magic to your programs--a magic they can't even see. A magic that reaches out to them and touches their hearts, warms their souls, stirs their creativity and expands their consciousness. That is your magic. Learn to wield it well."

"Where does the time go?" Mike asked.

"Ah, yes...when you become absorbed in your work, you lose your sense of time because you are actually transcending the barriers of time and space. Your consciousness is reaching within for the answers. Answers that can only be found within."

Mike was dumbfounded. He sat there and stared into those old eyes, drawn in by their wisdom, their knowingness.

Jackie continued. "Why do I work here? Do you see these people around us? These people are real people. The reason I work here is because I love them all so much. These are ordinary people; the people who need me most. They need my smile. They need to see the twinkle in my old eyes and know that magic is real and not imaginary. I like to pull them out of themselves."

The next day, Mike went to MacDonalds to thank her for the help, but Jackie wasn't there. He got the manager. Mike asked, "Yesterday there was an old woman cashier named Jackie Ferguson. I've got to find her. Can you help me?" "I'm sorry, but there hasn't been anyone named Jackie here for years."

And although Mike knew that Jackie wasn't at that particular restaurant, he knew that in some fast food restaurant in some small town across the globe, someone who needed help would find her that very day.