She is young, African American, and she’s exhausted. The restaurant where she waits tables had a stove malfunction, and customers are getting impatient. She keeps walking to my table and apologizing, and I keep reassuring her: it’s okay, it’s not your fault.
Then I hear her talking to other waitresses, behind me. Her baby boy is sick. She’s working Christmas, and Grandma’s not thrilled at caretaking for the day. The waitresses fan out for another round of apologies, their wan smiles showing the strain. Only the coffee keeps flowing.
A half hour passes by: 1:00, past lunchtime. I need to go. But I stay, to not offend my server. She might be twenty. We do small talk. Her: Do you have kids? Me: Two stepdaughters that I don’t see. Do you have dreams? Her (sarcastic): I am living the dream.
Who serves us, waits on us, puts up with us, depends on us?
I think, perhaps it was wrong to go to a restaurant on a holiday. All the employees, two dozen or more people, are there because I am there.
The girls of the waitstaff hug each other. The manager, barely a woman herself, is right there with them: Guys, we’re all in this together.
At 1:15, I stand and walk to the counter. Cashier: No charge. Manager: Come back for a meal, on me. Waitress: I’m so, so sorry.
I had just been to the bank, just withdrawn fifty bucks. I reach in my pocket, pull out the money, walk to my waitress and hand it all to her. “Please spend this on you and your baby son.” She shrieks and cries. We hug.
Tonight, I imagine she has already told the story a few times. Tonight, my pocket money for the week is gone—like I care. I need nothing. I’ve got love, which is all I need. “Love is all you need.”
If I could, I would leave all my worldly possessions to that young woman and her baby son. I have had my time, I have lived eight lives, I have seen miracles in hidden places far from the madding crowd.
Maybe keep in mind, as you walk or drive from place to place the next couple days, that if anyone does anything for you, in any place, you need to give of your heart—whatever that means to you. Anything. I have everything. I have all of you who read this. Me, the atheist who has no more or less use for Christmas than any other day.
Christmases long ago, I used to go with friends to Chicago hospitals and carol the patients and nurses. One night, an ER nurse walked up to me while I was singing “Oh Holy Night,” and she draped a blue ornament ball dangling from a red ribbon over the neck of my guitar. I could really sing then. I had pipes of gold.
Pipes and words: I was born with those talents. Save for high school not a single moment in any educational exploration—BA, MA—did I need, to use my gifts.
You and I will die if/when we rest on our laurels. (We prepare our children for Death by using metaphors, Santa, tooth fairy, Easter bunny, and, dare I say it, yes I do: God.) Every day new creation comes. Today, for me, it had nothing to do with golden pipes or stories.
Or did it?