I am not a very charitable person.
Yes, I donate money every year to various organizations. I take clothes and household items to Goodwill. And I give my kids canned foods to take to school.
But really that’s it.
The other day, I was out to lunch with nine of my family members. My brother and sister-in-law, five of our kids and my dad. We had gone to the deli that I worked at when I was home from college one summer 29 years ago.
I was talking to our waitress, who had been there for six months, about working back then. In the mid 1980s. There are different owners now and a completely different staff. I told her that on afternoons when it got slow we would drink. And that made her laugh.
She was taken with our family. And I told her how everyone was related.
We talked about getting ready for the holidays. I told her I was done because I celebrated Hannukah. She told me that her son was 10 years old and that he had given her a long list of things he hoped to get from Santa. And that she hoped she could get them for him.
She had an accent so I asked her where she was from. A town in the South. And this would be the first Christmas that she would be away from her family. When I asked her why she had moved to Miami she told me that her husband had abused her. And that she had had to go underground to escape him. The organization had moved her to South Florida. Like in a witness protection program.
As she took our orders, and brought us our food, she was laughing and smiling the whole time. She even brought out an extra order of fries because the teens at the end of the table were fighting over the ones that they had.
She commented on the way I took everybody’s cell phones and put them at the end of the table so we would all talk to each other. She liked that.
We talked for a few minutes about parenting. She’s living with a friend until she can get her own place. And the friend’s kids are allowed to stay up late on school nights playing on the computer and on their electronics. But she makes her son go to bed early so that he’ll be rested for school. Which is hard for him. She said that she tells him that even though he lives in a big city now he still has to use his small town manners. Yes m’am, no m’am. Opening doors for strangers.
I looked around our table at my family and was struck by how lucky we are. That we were able to be together even though we live in different parts of the country. That we’re healthy. And that yes, we can afford many things.
And I looked in my wallet to see how much money I had.
When we left, I went up to our waitress, wished her a Merry Christmas and handed her the money. I told her that it wasn’t much but that I hoped it would help.
And she said it would. It would help her get a few more things off of her son’s list.
We looked each other in the eye, one mother to another, and gave each other a big hug.
And I left.
We never even exchanged names. But two days later, I’m still thinking about her.
I’m not writing this because I want to give myself a pat on the back, though I hope I made a little bit of a difference for her and her son.
I’m writing this because I’m not used to having the feeling I got from connecting with her. A peaceful euphoria that made me teary eyed.
The encounter made me realize that I’m missing something. I’m missing that feeling of helping others. And I want to have that feeling more often.
So I’m going to make time in my life to help others on a regular basis. I’m not yet sure what I’ll do but I have some ideas. A few causes that come quickly to mind are volunteering at my local public library, supporting the efforts of a literacy organization or helping out at a shelter for victims of domestic violence. I have skills that could be helpful to all of these places.
I’ll let you know where I end up.