In response to my post entitled “small kindnesses,” my friend Dibby wrote this comment:
…never, ever pass by a lemonade stand without indulging…
When I read this, I knew exactly what she meant and how she meant it. She thinks like me. She gets it.
When either of us sees a kid running a lemonade stand, we get excited. We remember the thrill of being that kid.
Coloring the sign to announce your wares, sure that your graphic artistry and marketing were going to practically pull the people in, almost against their will. Hearing the satisfying “pah!” as you peeled back the plastic lid on the tub of powdered drink mix and being greeted with that smell. Choosing a pitcher that would make the lemonade look most appealing (always glass for me; never plastic). Cracking the ice from the trays into the finished product (having forgotten to do this first, and thus making quite a mess with the splashing). And sometimes, mom would suggest adding lemon wheels she’d cut for you, in order to make it look more authentic and to up the ante.
The card table and folding chairs would be set up close to the road. The sign was affixed with masking tape:
ICE COLD LEMONADE
It was imperative that the sign say “ICE COLD,” because that was part of the sure-fire marketing strategy. The pitcher of lemonade was placed front and center, with two upside-down stacks of plastic cups waiting beside.
The tin can would occupy the corner of the table closest to yourself, so that you could look into it often. The money can. I remember the feeling of anticipation in setting it all up while watching the cars go by on the nearby road. Every one that passed before we were open for business was a missed opportunity to start filling that can.
And you imagined that can full. The night before, and that morning as you prepared, you’d do and re-do the figures. “If this many cars stop, then I’ll make this much, and if THIS many cars stop, I could make THIS much,” and so on. Then, of course, you’d begin to break it all down by the hour.
You felt confident. Important. Grown up somehow.
Show time! OK, world, let’s see those dimes! But then . . .
Much to your confusion, the cars would not stop. There would not be a waiting line that was impossible to keep up with. The can would not be getting full. And then your aunt would stop by. Or your grandmother. Or a neighbor. And your mom would suggest that you make the sign bigger with darker letters. Or that maybe if you smiled and waved and didn’t look quite so dejected, that might do the trick.
You’d inevitably give in and drink some of the profits away as the afternoon wore on. How are all these people not as hot as I am? How are they able to resist my lemonade? you’d think, never quite aware that the ice had all melted by now, and that the lemonade was diluted and warm.
But then — once in a while — someone would stop. A stranger. A real live customer. And you’d get your game face on, and sit up a little straighter, and say “Hello!” instead of “Hi.” And you’d pour him a brimming, shaking cup of your warm, iceless lemonade. And instead of a dime, he’d produce a whole dollar! And you’d thank him and offer him more lemonade, which he’d refuse and tell you that you’d need it for other customers, and that he was sure this was the time of day when most people really got the hankering for lemonade. And you’d wave after him as he drove away. Then you’d grin at your dollar, wide eyed. And you’d refill that pitcher and add some more ice and wipe your brow. By gum, you were back in it!
I’ve made it my goal to be that guy. The guy who always stops, whether he is thirsty or not. The guy who saves the day. Who gives the whole dollar (and sometimes a five) with a wink and tells them how terribly thirsty he was, and that he really didn’t know what he would have done had they not had that lemonade stand.
The ability to take someone else’s perspective goes beyond literature and lemonade stands. It’s a conscious choice to really see the others around us. To value them. To empathize. And to engage.
A me-centered life is a lonely and strangely unsatisfying one. Self is never satisfied. The more we feed it, the hungrier it gets.
On the other hand, choosing to adopt more others-centered attitudes and actions connects us, bringing with it a sense of joy, belonging and purpose.
It’s Memorial Day weekend. Summer is here. Be on the lookout for the lemonade stands near you.