I call this “The Kitchen Story” because that’s where we were that morning. It started as a story about a simple kindness. It has become a struggle to tell without it becoming bigger than it was.
Here is the story. Not long after we were seated and studying the menu, a man came in. He was unkempt and carried a large green bundle that could have been a sleeping bag. It was obvious that the two young women on the wait staff did not want to seat him, and they did not know how to ask him to leave. They skittered around the counter uncertainly and finally seated him in a corner.
I could see their discomfort; I gestured to one young lady and when she came to the table, she acknowledged that the man’s demeanor made them uncomfortable. Neither of them knew what to do about him. She said that if he did not pay, the manager would be angry and they would have to explain. In short, they were uncertain and unprepared to deal with the “what if.”
Without thinking, I said to her that I would like her to serve the man, and I would pay for his breakfast if he did not. I had to reassure her multiple times that I truly meant to do this. They were relieved by the offer. The man was served his breakfast and he paid his bill. He also left a tip.
Why was telling this story a struggle? Did I have problems with appearing kind and generous? Both traits are admirable. Hoping she could help me tell the story, Corky shared it with her friends. Their reactions made it appear even bigger than it was. While it’s gratifying to be in the same sentence as Gandhi or the Dalai Lama, it only added to my discomfort.
In truth, at that moment I had no large vision, not even the first Unitarian Universalist principle: The inherent worth and dignity of every person. I did not think to tell the uncertain young wait staff to look past that man’s unkempt appearance and behold his inner goodness. Nor did it occur to me that I might postulate the Buddhist precept of not causing harm.
It was even later as I wondered about telling the story at all that I remembered sobbing through Olivier Messiaen’s opera, Saint François d'Assise. When the monks are busy with monastery chores, an angel asks admission. They wave off the angel without seeing him. When I considered this all too human mistake, I cried.
As I have grappled with telling this story, I see that the struggle has been in writing about myself when experiencing no self was such a large part of it. This state of being is certainly unfamiliar. And that is my kitchen story.