FREE LUNCH IS FOR REAL but how can we learn to really take care of each other?


Yesterday, I left my house in a fit of fussiness because the insulation project which we needed to have done in our bedroom was not exactly “finished” due to the estimated cost not covering the plastering, spackling, and cleaning up this type of work entails. As I sat at my altar for my morning ritual, a white-yellow film covered the entirety of my altar table. Feathers, smudge pot, candles all stared back at me with a dim, mournful vibe that said, “Wipe and repeat, please.”

I knew if I stayed at home, I wouldn’t get any work done since I would not be able to resist scrubbing, washing and wiping down every possible surface upstairs. Trust me: I am no Miss Hospital Corners. But this wretched cellulose debris in its microscopic state was everywhere! So I hustled over to the library where I went to my 7th floor “office.” I was able to create lots of copy for my new website and even figured out a nuanced application of WordPress. Yeeha!

At noon, I was hankering for lunch but still not ready to return home to the mess. Because my sweet, loving and considerate husband would never want me to go too long eating his vegetarian diet, I decided to take myself out for a burger. Bintliff’s, here I come.

I sat at a wobbly table facing the post office with a cup of mandarin orange spiced tea warming my hands, the latest Poets & Writers magazine inviting me to enter some more contests. The Tuesday lunch crowd was ambling in and the delightful buzz of white noise filled the café. I ordered my burger, adding thick cut apple-smoked bacon, because what the hell? Cows and pigs love each other.

When my burger arrived, I closed the magazine in a fashion that was reminiscent of turning off your cell phone before you enter the passage grave at Newgrange. That is to say: I wanted nothing to detract from my gastronomic experience, not even reading. Havarti dill oozed over the grilled brioche roll, the crispy-fried shallots danced in the “lean” grease of the meat, the sweet potato homies were devilishly blackened just enough. Okay, stand back. There will be no doggie bag today, I thought.

And before I knew it, the hallowed experience of a meat treat was over. As I checked the bill for accuracy, a prick of anxiety rushed over me as I remembered that my wallet was in my gym bag. I scrambled around in my purse, only coming up with my checkbook. No I.D., though. No credit cards or cash. Could I write a check here?

The panic melted into embarrassment as I told the server my situation. “I left the house in such a rush this morning,” I whispered. “I can leave my cell phone here, and I’ll just run back home. I am so sorry.” She smiled meekly then stared down at my checkbook’s curling carbon edges. “I need to check with my manager,” she said.

When the manager came over, I was compelled to tell him the whole thing. Listening to myself recount how forgetful I’d been amplified my embarrassment even more. He was nodding patiently, his brown eyes flickering at the floor as if to solve a puzzle. Then, the gentleman sitting at the booth across from me said, “I’ll take care of it.” He and another woman had just opened their menus. When I looked at him, my eyes filling with tears, there was a flush of thanks and appreciation mixed with a deep knowing that there are kind people in the world.

But most of us don’t know what to do with kindness. I kept blubbering “thank you, thank you,” as if saying it once was not enough. I asked for his email so I could send him a thank you note. Because I was so flustered, I couldn’t even write it down and handed a piece of paper and a pen to the woman sitting with him so she could write it down. Finally, I said, “You just don’t know how much I needed this.” My chest heaved one more good time and I turned back to my wobbly table.

On my ride home, asking outloud for blessings on the man and the woman, I realized the real lesson inherent in my free lunch and it wasn’t about kindness or gratitude or even grace. It was the Big Question: When will we adopt the legacy of taking care of each other? At what point will we be fully trained in the art of compassion, fully giving and fully receiving, no strings attached because that’s just how humans operate?

Or, to put it bluntly: Can the Golden Rule save us? Will we let it?

2 Comments on “FREE LUNCH IS FOR REAL but how can we learn to really take care of each other?”

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