So, when your day starts like this:
“Oh crap,” Moment #1 (DJ painted her face while I was boiling water for oatmeal…approximately 7:00am).
“Oh crap CRAP,” Moment #2 (DJ decided to paint another, darker, version of “a butterfly,” while I was stirring the oatmeal and changing Bitzy’s diaper…approximately 7:15am)
“Are you freakin kidding me?” Moment #3 (DJ denies tackling her sister, and bringing her to tears – yet the paint trail of evidence tells a different story….approximately 7:20am)
“Crappity crap crap crap – this is NOT happening right now!” Moment #4 (DJ decides to throw a tantrum on the post office floor….approximately 9:30am).
So yeah, when your day starts off like that, you find yourself resorting to all sorts of bribery. Next up on our agenda was getting our bangs trimmed. At the rate we were going, I was certain DJ would grab a pair of shears and go on a cutting rampage at the salon. Naturally, I did what any desperate mom would do….I made a deal with the devil. I told her that she could pick anything she wanted for lunch if she’d just behave at the salon.
….And sometimes, the only place serving “basghetti with lots of cheese” is a restaurant with white linen table cloths and crystal water goblets. Oh, with giant mirrors lining the walls – for children to lick, obviously.
As I fumbled around trying not to look too out of place with two small children at a fancy schmancy restaurant, Bitzy knocked my water over and onto my lap, while DJ complained there were no crayons to draw with. Things were looking up, wouldn’t you agree? Thank God for heat lamps so that I could keep the circus outside.
Once we placed our order, I noticed a man walking toward the restaurant. He was toting a rather large and tattered suitcase behind him. He looked to be in his 50′s, and although his clothes were clean and well kept, I could tell that he had fallen on some tough times. His face told the story. He hadn’t shaven in weeks, and his eyes were bloodshot, heavy, sad. As he approached the restaurant, he seemed hesitant. Peering into the front window, searching over the outdoor seating where we were. He rolled his suitcase past the restaurant, and then sheepishly crept back toward it again.
Our server took notice and asked, “May I help you, Sir?” The man was clearly caught off guard, and before he could think – before his pride could hush him, he quietly said, “Um, yes, um, see, I have no money. I’m homeless. I’m hungry and I don’t have any money. Would you, could you, um, consider giving me something to eat?” In that split second, I knew that if the server sent the man away, that I’d absolutely buy him lunch. But, as quickly as my heart had been broken for this man, it was restored again. The server said, “Yes, Sir. Would you like to sit inside or outside?”
I felt my eyes well up with tears. Not only was this restaurant going to provide this man with a meal, but they were going to wait on him. They were going to wait on him. Even now, just typing that sentence makes my heart swell with hope and joy. I watched the man wipe a look of utter shock from his face as he took a seat at a table next to ours…white linens and all. He peered at us through watery, grateful eyes, and said, “Wow. I can’t believe it.”
We spent the remainder of our lunch talking back and forth with this man. We talked about Bratwurst sausages and German beer. We talked about sauerkraut, pizza, and the time his mom attempted to make corn dogs. And, we talked about his diabetes, his disability, his child support payments, and his preference for sleeping on park benches rather than the ground – because it’s too hard for his tired body to get down that low, and “forget about trying to get back up.” He carries a sleeping bag in his suitcase.
“You know, I can’t believe they’re feeding me. Sometimes you just need to ask for help. Some people know that people are just people. I don’t like to ask, but the alternative is stealing from a grocery store and risking jail. No one wants that.”
He’s diabetic. In fact, a Paramedic van drove by the restaurant, and the driver and this man waved like old buddies. “I’ll be damned,” he said, “those are the same guys who responded to my low blood sugar earlier today. Man, I was shaking like a leaf.” It hit me. A man with diabetes whose life depends on frequent meals – usually can’t get one. I felt the knot in my stomach twist a little tighter.
Throughout our lunch, my mind raced with ideas on how I could help this man. Should I buy him a few meals to go? Should I offer to walk with him to the grocery store a few blocks down? Should I dig in my purse and try to scrounge up a few dollars? I just wasn’t sure. All the while, I was fighting feelings of embarrassment, humiliation, and shame as DJ barked out questions like, “What will I get once I finish all my lunch? Will I get a treat?” I snapped, “You will get the satisfaction of a full belly.” “Mommy, where will this bread go if we don’t finish it?” With my head swinging ever so lowly, with a quiet voice, I said, “Probably in the garbage.” “Why?”
Great question, my sweet daughter. Why? Why do we waste so much when there are people out there, people, who are only one bad decision, only one mean twist of fate, only one lost job, only one broken relationship, only one month short of rent – people uncomfortably similar to us, who are cold, hungry and lonely? I was suddenly self conscious about everything – about the new leather boots I was wearing, about the layers of warm clothing we were haphazardly removing and draping over our chairs, about my children having a collection of toys in my purse, and mostly, about how I was answering DJ’s most innocent questions.
“How was everything, Sir?” the server asked. “Man, it was great. My compliments to the chef.” I couldn’t help but grin as I heard that. For a moment, that man sounded like any other appreciative and experienced diner. “Would you like some coffee and dessert, Sir?” Completely dumbfounded, this ever appreciative man gladly accepted the offer. As the server walked away, the man told me how good his pasta was, “it had chicken and sausage and vegetables.”
In that moment, I knew in my heart that the nicest thing that I could do for this man, would be to allow him to be a dignified patron at that fancy schmancy Italian restaurant. Chicken and sausage and vegetables….God bless that server and the chef. They could’ve easily felt proud about their good deed by serving spaghetti with tomato sauce. But, they didn’t. They didn’t allow their own pride to dictate their level of generosity – they allowed their beautiful sense of humanity to lead the way. So much goodness tossed into one bowl of hot pasta.
We wished the man well. Thanked him for talking with us, and said our goodbyes as his coffee was served, complete with a porcelain creamer and silver tongs to pinch up cubes of raw sugar. I walked away knowing that this meal, perhaps his only all day – or for days to come, allowed him to feel special. He was treated with dignity and respect. It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. I watched a grown man transform from a downtrodden and defeated homeless person, to an ordinary man. I watched his eyes gleam, and his shoulders relax. I watched him ease out of his discomfort and slowly into another world – perhaps the world where he used to live before a stroke of bad luck.
All I can say is that I was surely blessed by this man, and by the server who didn’t hesitate to invite him to sit down. I plan to print this post out and send it to the manager of that restaurant. That manager should be proud to be represented by such a kind and generous staff. They have certainly earned my business – for what I saw today was evidence that humanity has not been lost. I have hope that people are good. That small acts of kindness can, and will, change the world – one bowl of goodness at a time.
And now, my shameless plug for the restaurant (that I have only just tried for the first time today) : Spalti Ristorante, 417 South California Avenue Palo Alto, CA 94306
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