Early one morning I went into a small, neighborhood restaurant to have breakfast. Here came my waitress, hurriedly walking down the aisle to where I was seated. Before she even reached my table, I had an uneasy feeling that I wasn’t going to hit it off very well with this young woman.
She impatiently asked what I wanted for breakfast. I smiled at her and just ordered some oatmeal and a small glass of orange juice. When she brought my order, for a moment she seemed to be in such a hurry that I thought she just might dump my orange juice into my oatmeal.
For years I’ve had to carry my own silverware with larger, rounded handles because I don’t have very good fine motor coordination as a result of my MS. When I finished my meal and she brought my check, I asked this young lady if she could rinse off my silverware for me.
You should have seen the look she gave me. I'm sure she thought I had a case of the bubonic plague or something. I told her not to bother and decided to rinse them as best I could with my napkin and glass of water.
As I did, a feeling came over me and I actually mumbled to myself, “Billy bum, sometimes you’ve got to be kind to others, even when you don’t feel like it.”
My bill wasn’t much and I thought, Why should I let her ruin my day? So I just laid a ten dollar bill on the table and left. It was time to forget about the whole incident and get on with my day.
A few months later I happened to return to the same restaurant. I was hoping to get better service, but it seemed like the hostess purposely seated me in the same area I was in before.
As I looked up, here came that same waitress, hurrying through the maze of tables and chairs. This time, though, she was rushing up to greet me. For a fleeting moment, I thought she was going to give me a big hug and a kiss!
“Mister, I’ll never forget you,” she said. “I have been praying you might return, but after I was so nasty to you that day, I had almost given up hope that I would ever see you again.
“You see, I'm a young single mom, struggling to raise four hungry boys. What you didn’t know was that five minutes before you came in that morning, I had received an urgent phone call back in the kitchen, informing me that my mother had just been killed in a car accident. She had been helping me raise my boys. My whole life had just caved in and I took out my frustration on you!
“Here you were, a perfect stranger, yet you were so kind to me. Do you realize you gave me a 100% tip that morning? Mister, I’ll never forget how kind you were to me. I just want to give you a hug!”
It was too much for me. I broke down and started crying. We just stood there hugging each other, right out in front of the astonished diners.
What I had done was so simple that I really hadn’t even thought much about it. A smile. A few dollars in a tip. (And it wasn’t even one of those thousand dollar tips that you read about.) But these seemingly small gestures were things this waitress had remembered for months.
Over the years, I’ve come to realize more than ever that others often have a more difficult time experiencing life than I do. That morning I learned that I often don’t know when others are struggling through life’s most desperate, strenuous moments. And in the midst of whatever they are going through, they are simply trying to keep their composure and hang on to some sense of normalcy.
For someone who is hurting, any simple act of kindness (that any of us can do) is something they will cling to as if it’s their life preserver for the day. And, more often than you know, it truly is.