Tuesday, March 10, 2015

"All the beautiful sentiments in the world weigh less than a single lovely action."  ~  James Russel Lowell

We'd ordered our hamburgers and those amazing, freshly cut, freshly cooked, French fries at "In-and-Out" on the way home from Phoenix, Arizona. My husband, who almost never eats meat, had been looking for miles along our drive home for the "In-and-Out," and I could hardly wait. The little building was brimming with folks who loved those burgers-and-fries, but we'd finally found a small table for two. Richard was waiting in the front to hear them call the magic number "97," and then we would "pig out!" 

I was sitting there, waiting, looking at all the people who were stuffed into this little building. Across the aisle an older lady sat alone at booth for 4, eating her hamburger and fries, alone. There was a tiny line of catsup dripping down the left side of her chin, and I knew that soon, my chin would probably be dripping mustard down the front of my blouse! 

Though the older lady was all alone, her eyes were alive, scanning the crowd, and when she looked my way, I averted my stare and tried to appear courteous, instead. I had a long wait, I knew, but people-watching is always fun to do. Richard still wasn't back with our food, and the older lady was half-finished with her eats, so I began my usual wondering about who she was and where she came from and where she might be going after this…

Meanwhile, the mashing and smashing of people moving through the aisles, or jumping at tables, or slouching away from them, was like a badly rehearsed dance. I noticed an older lady, her bright red plastic tray full of a hamburger, fries, and something to drink, looking vainly down "my" aisle for a place it sit before her food got cold. But there was no place. She was "up a slew-crick," as my Mom would have said. Poooor lady…. but where was MY food…?

And then, the lady with the catsup-chin looked up and shouted, "Are you alone? Come! Sit here!" and she took another big bite of her double-decker cheeseburger and then quickly thrust a handful of fries into her half-full mouth. But the standing lady looked a little abashed. She was shy, and the hustle and noise seemed to overwhelm her. Could it be that this was her first time at "In-and-Out?"

"C'mon! You won't find another place to sit, and I'm all alone, too!"

And so the "standing lady" became the "sitting lady." After she'd set her plastic tray on the table and quietly settled into the booth, she looked across the table at her mysterious lunch companion and seemed the tiniest bit frightened. I, on the other hand, just looked! 

The catsup-lady was taking another big bite of her Double-Double hamburger, and it was right about then that I realized I needed to look away and fixate somewhere else. But what would these two very different ladies do between bites? How does a shy lady start up an acquaintance with an out-going "foodie" like the total stranger who'd called her over to sit down?

Well, I didn't have to look at them to listen… did I… "What did you get?" asked the Catsup-lady.

"Well…  I got… a… cheeseburger."

"Yeah, but what did they put on it?" This between two more mouthfuls of fries. (OK, OK, I was watching again… Sheesh!) 

"I only have catsup on mine…"

"No PICKLES????? Ya oughta try the pickles… M-m-m-m…. Why are you here in Moreno Valley? Do you live here?"

"No. I had to visit my husband in the hospital."

"Is he going to be OK?"

"Well, it is looking better… I'm scared, though. Are you married?"

"I'm a widow. For twenty years I've been a widow..."

Richard came back with our cheeseburgers and fries, but, being the considerate wife I am, I let him eat in peace without conversation. (Of course, I'm lying!) That wasn't the reason I was uncharacteristically quiet during our whole lunch yestersday. I was simply fascinated. 

I listened to the two ladies' conversation as they shared their lunch table and their lives. Two perfect stangers, who would probably never meet again in this lifetime, talked to each other about their deepest fears, and neither even knew the other's name! 

"The kindness of strangers" that Blanche Dubois talked about is a miraculous thing, and sometimes it comes at the exact the moment when you need another person… a stranger, best of all. With a stranger, you need no pretense. You willl never see them again, so there is no need for elaborate shams. It's you, and only you… and them, and only them… The truth is easier without all the trappings of trivia.

Their body language was fun to observe. The late-comer sat, cuddling the back of the red plastic booth, at first. But as their conversation deepened, she put her elbows on the table and leaned in. She took a deep breath and let it out, and then her shoulders lowered, and there was this lovely sigh of relief that came from her. 

That lone lady in the booth for 4 had been an angel of mercy to that lady loaded down with packages and fear for her husband. And the Catsup-lady had a lovely companion for lunch who needed the only sort of calming that could have soothed her fear… someone who'd been though the worst. Complete strangers had reached into the other's heart and given them a perfectly priceless gift. 

They hugged each other when they left "In-and-Out," got into their cars, and drove away in opposite directions. 

I hope that the lady's husband recovers, and I hope that all good things come to the "Catsup Lady." Maybe she'll find a "Mustard Man" and live out the rest of her days with him. But most of all, I hope I can be a "Catsup Lady" for someone when it's needed. And, oh, do I hope that a "Catsup Lady" will turn up somewhere at the exact time I need her.