Do you realize you can have a lifelong effect on a stranger, by one single act of kindness? Imagine, years later, they're still talking about it.
Imagine, at our age, sitting in a classroom through four periods of eighth-graders substituting and dealing with today’s challenges: cell phones, a disregard for authority, and a heightened uneasiness among students.
With only one week into retirement, I decided to trade in my hat, working with seniors, and take on the daunting task of toiling with today’s youth. I had to ask myself, am I crazy? As I contemplate finding a logical reason for being here, I look for justification.
There’s a past event in my life that occasionally pops up, reminding me. ----- Never underestimate one single act of kindness; it can last a lifetime.
It goes back to when I was a waitress in my twenties working in a busy restaurant on Cape Cod. I don’t recall all the details, but what I learned, strangers you meet along the way can forever have an impact on how you treat others.
If you’ve ever worked as a server in a busy place, you understand the amount of effort involved in keeping patrons fed and happy. I have often compared this to the guy, spinning plates, who performed on the Ed Sullivan Show. Even a good server sometimes has no control over the timing and quality of the food delivered. The experience can be a nightmare.
It was a typically busy day at the Island Pagoda, where the dining room was as filled as the front lobby, where people were waiting for a seat. I had just finished serving a couple, their meal when I was returning to the kitchen. I could then hear his voice, echoing, across the room, “MISS GET OVER HERE!” What followed next, I don’t recall the exact conversation, but his shaming words struck me like a wounded animal, hurt, defenseless, and standing alone. It was then I noticed a man whom I had already served, get up still wearing his napkin, tucked in his shirt, walking over to the man speaking calmly but firmly.
------"Please do not speak to my waitress like that! You owe her an apology.”
And there it was, a moment in time even years later that has always stayed with me. A stranger, stepping up to the plate and speaking out on behalf of another. One act of kindness taught a young girl that peoples’ behavior does matter.
Back to the classroom, it was the last class of the day, and I was as ready as the students, to bolt out the door. I look around me and noticed the young man, overweight sitting alone, at a table, clutching onto his phone trying to ignore the crumbled pieces of paper, the other students, had been throwing in his direction all period, despite my orders to stop. I wanted to be that man with his napkin, still tucked in his shirt, walking across the dining room to confront the bully.
With time running out, I didn’t know what I could say to make the slightest difference. Even if I came up with something witty, the students wouldn’t hear me. Just before the bell was to ring, I opened the door and stood outside. Like a bolt of lightning, they filed out, one by one, as the young man appeared. I gently grabbed his arm and told him, “Thank you for being so patient with me. It’s hard as a sub to be taken seriously. Maybe the next time I’m here, you can help me.” He acknowledged my words with half a smile and walked off.
I vowed never to return but despite several calls I’m going back. I guess I need to give it another shot before I throw in the towel. I know I can’t save the world but maybe someday that young man when recalling his life might remember that sub who looked for comfort when giving it.
Thanks to my stranger, a mensch. I will always be grateful and continue to pay it forward.
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