A big lesson from a little moment

Our caterers forgot the ice.

With 42 minutes to go until our USV Network welcome session began, I had limited time and resources but needed to make it work.

The proprietors of our venue loaned me a RadioFlyer red wagon and pointed me in the direction of Whole Foods a few blocks away.

While I walked, the wagon loudly racketed against the pavement behind me, I strategized the next 35 minutes carefully. Pick up the ice, set out the food, ready the projector, print the sign in list, prepare the registration area. I had to move quickly but I knew I could handle it. In many ways, I thrive on tight deadlines.

I arrived at Whole Foods to a wall of LaCroix, which reminded me that I could use an extra case or two. The display consisted only of two types: Grapefruit flavored in orange boxes and original sparkling water flavor in blue boxes. I already had the former so opted for the plain.

Oddly enough the boxes were intermixed, and each blue box of plain LaCroix was buried by at least 4 orange cases of grapefruit flavor. Removing a blue box from the delicate display felt like a real life game of Jenga.

“This is idiotic,” I thought. “What an insane way to store water. How is anybody supposed to get this out?”

I use both hands and latch onto a blue case and start jostling it back and forth to wrench it free. It doesn’t budge much. I feel a tap on my shoulder.

“They keep more in back,” says a woman behind me.

“Sorry?”

“By the eggs and yogurt,” she continues, “there’s tons more. And more flavors too.”

I don’t bother telling her that “where the eggs and yogurt are” means nothing to me. Not only do I not live in this city, but I visit grocery stores less than once a month.

I stare at her and just nod. She must be able to tell I don’t quite register her helpful hint.

“Here, I’m going that way too. I’ll show you.”

My savior!

I follow this woman in lock-step, carting my jostling red wagon behind me, with my brain still fixated on my ever-growing to-do list. Sure enough, she was right, and we locate an even more diverse array of LaCroix. I opt for one blue box and one green box, then continue on my way.

Our event kicked off at 4pm. We had plenty of fizzy water to go around.

Five hours later, I am exhausted. At 9:13 pm, my Lyft driver picks me up, and I collapse inside. My bag contains the post-event remains that any organizer knows well: Extra name tags, event surveys, and a half-consumed bottle of red wine that I know I won’t actually drink back at my hotel.

As I stare absently out the window, reflecting on the freneticism of my week, my eyes catch on the LaCroix display at the entrance to the Whole Foods. We drive past and I at once see what I failed to before: The orange cases make up the background color, and the blue ones spell out a phrase: SoMa. Each box has been strategically placed to make this sign.

It hit me like a case of LaCroix slammed in my face. That wasn’t a stack of bubbly water for sale; it was a greeting: Welcome to the Whole Foods in San Francisco’s SoMa neighborhood.

Earlier that day, when I was so laser focused on getting everything ready under tight deadlines, I saw only one thing: An inefficient route to my desired outcome (a case of blue LaCroix). It was only later on, from the perspective of a fatigued event hostess peering through the window of my Lyft, that I was able to step away from that myopic view and see the big picture: The case I tried to wrestle away was part of a bigger message.

It’s likely that the woman who saw me wrestling with the case saw the bigger picture. Maybe I would have too, if I had been able to absorb my surroundings a bit more clearly.

While I still got what I needed in the end, I failed to appreciate how the parts around me played into a larger whole.

Sometimes the biggest lessons come from the little moments.