Wednesday, February 28, 2007


Today brings quite a moving post at the always excellent Waiter Rant. The post is about people in pain, who usually treat those around them poorly. A sample:

I go back into the dining room. The old man’s staring off into space. His watery blue eyes remind me of a fearful child scanning the horizon, wondering who’s going to be the next person to hurt him. He looks like the world broke him like a dollar bill and didn’t give him back any change. The world’s full of people like him, hurting folk who, for whatever reason, are profoundly cut off from the human race. Unable to form or maintain relationships, but craving social contact nonetheless, they hang around the periphery of normal human activity. You see them all the time, walking around the mall, eating alone in diners, hanging out in Starbucks - surviving off the residual energy of other people’s lives. Relationships for these people are superficial encounters with waiters and cops, doormen and librarians, pretty girls who, trying to feel better about themselves, toss them two minutes of conversation while waiting in line for caramel lattes. Every restaurant has at least one customer fitting this description. Maybe it’s an old widower who sits at the same table and orders the same thing every week. Maybe it’s the uptight Yuppie guy hiding behind a book or the daytime spinster drowning nightly dreams of Mr. Right under a sea of Cosmopolitans. I can tell this old man isn’t coming here just for Zuppa di Pesce. He’s trying to satisfy a hunger no amount of food will sate.

Possibly the most moving part for me was Waiter's conclusion:

As I walk back to my newspaper I listen to the sound my footfalls make as they echo off the tiled floor. There were people like this old man at The Bistro and there’s sure to be more people like him here. I’m suddenly reminded of that line from the Gospels, “The poor will always be with you.”

Scriptural reflection aside, I’m happy to leave the old man to his soup. I’m not in the mood for hurting folk today.

I can hear Waiter's compassion and care, and I can also see his sense of boundaries and proportion... and the pain at not being able to make everything better for everybody everywhere.

This is why I make an effort to be gracious to the people I encounter in hospitality professions. I know I don't always succeed, but they are doing important work - ministry, in fact, though they may not think of it that way - and they encounter all sorts of folks every day.

I still remember the big family dinner we took part in, shortly after my husband's grandmother passed away. We had all gotten together in Connecticut for the funeral, about fifteen of us, and we went out to dinner at a nice restaurant that night. We had a great time together, and really enjoyed our dinner. At the end of the meal, one of the waiters who had helped us said, "Congratulations on your family reunion." My husband said, "Actually, it was a funeral." And the waiter was momentarily speechless. I know it was strange that we could gather and have such a good time together, when the context of our gathering was death, but the waiter took it in stride and offered his condolences. The hospitality we enjoyed at that restaurant had been impeccable, and it had allowed us that interval of togetherness and cheer on a dark day.

When I remember, which I'll admit isn't as often as I would like, I will offer a prayer for the people who work at the restaurant or hotel or wherever I am. I will thank God for their work in hospitality, which plays such a big part in all of the bible, including the gospels. And I will ask a blessing on them. Of course, I try to always remember to thank them in person, too, and to thank them with my tip as well. They say the devil is in the details, but God is in the details, too. And sometimes, a little detail like a smile and a thank you can make such a huge difference for someone who is overworked, stressed by dealing with this wide variety of mostly-crazy humans, and maybe not in the mood for hurting folk today.