by Faith Hoyt—
A while back, I did something that created both a fair amount of embarrassment for me and a great many laughs for my colleagues.
Our department had planned an informal dinner at a nearby restaurant right after work. I offered two of my coworkers a ride to the restaurant, but after waiting in the parking lot for a while, I left with only one of them. I later learned that had I waited two more minutes to hear from him, my other coworker wouldn’t have missed out on the gathering.
Well, we’re a close-knit bunch, and our missing coworker was…missed. (He ended up deciding not to come.) I felt bad about my impatience, so later I asked our boss if he knew of something this coworker particularly liked—something that could help make amends for a failed rendezvous. The suggestion, which came with a grin now that I think back on it, was Malta, a soft drink made mostly in coastal Caribbean areas such as Haiti, Panama, or Puerto Rico.
I had tasted Malta several summers before, and although I remembered disliking the molasses flavor, I was eager to find this favorite beverage that would restore good will. (My coworkers are a great bunch, so actually losing their good will is hard to do.) Since we were in Los Angeles County, I figured the odds were good that I could find Malta at the local grocery store.
Fast forward to a scene on aisle 26 of said local grocery store, where a sales associate helped end a 10-minute search and tracked down one of the last cases of Malta in stock. I was thrilled. “Popular drink!” I mused as I headed to the checkout. Later, I triumphantly sought out the coworker whom I’d abandoned and held out the case of Malta as a peace offering. This was when my enthusiasm shifted to another state—we will call it “self-conscious distress.”
Here’s how the handoff of the Malta went down: I held out the container with a big grin and said nothing as I waited for the significance of the drink to register on my friend’s face. That look never came. Instead, he remarked, “OK, Malta!” and looked back at me with a confused expression. I felt myself mirror his look.
“But you like Malta!” I insisted.
“I do?” was his reply.
We stood there for a brief second. Then my coworker laughed, accepted my offering, and said a gracious thank you before returning to what he was doing—all with that expression of someone who is laughing inwardly.
Later, I learned that the name of this coworker’s favorite drink is Materva (something I haven’t tried—apparently a carbonated drink made from a popular tea in South America). For our office, however, the word Malta is engrained in our memories as the keyword for a running joke about good intentions.
I’m grateful each time this story comes up. Instead of resurrecting feelings of embarrassment, it makes me feel a strong sense of camaraderie with my coworkers. My community.
I’ve found that whether it’s the wrong drink, the wrong name in a bulletin, or even fabric swatches you’ve chosen for reupholstering pews that everyone else finds ugly, moments like these are an opportunity to stop taking life so seriously, laugh at ourselves, and—perhaps most importantly—laugh together.
Faith Hoyt is a communication specialist for the Pacific Union Conference. She lives in Riverside, California, and is earning an advanced degree from La Sierra University.