A Little Light

A few weeks ago, I picked up Charlie and Millie from summer camp and surprised them with lunch in town at our favorite burger place. Charlie loves a good cheeseburger and Millie could beat grown men in a french fry eating competition and also this made for one fewer meal I had to prepare at home so we were all pretty jazzed to be there.

This restaurant happens to be super small so when we entered, we headed straight to the counter to put in our order before finding a table. We found ourselves behind a young man placing a large takeout order. He was hot and sweaty and dirty and had obviously been working outside and appeared to be taking food to the rest of his crew.

After paying for our burgers and fries, I thought it best for the kids to wash up because who knows what they do at summer camp but it probably should come off of their hands before lunch so we headed to the bathroom. Upon returning to the little dining room, we were greeted by what could only be described as a mustard explosion. We stopped in our tracks and kind of did that cartoonish double-blink with our eyes. On one side of the restaurant, mustard was everywhere. On a couple of the tables, on the walls, the chairs, the floor. Bright, yellow mustard painted all over the place. And, all over the shirt and jeans and hands of the young man with the takeout order who we were behind in line when we arrived and who was obviously the point of origin for the mustard detonation.

In the short time we were in the bathroom, this customer’s order had come up and he had obviously attempted to add some ketchup and mustard to the burgers in the bag before heading out the door. At this restaurant, both of those condiments are in big red and yellow plastic squeeze bottles. I don’t know if the lid to the mustard wasn’t on tight or maybe, since the restaurant had just opened for the day, the temperature change from the cold refrigerator storage and the super warm dining room caused some sort of volatile buildup in the bottle which led to the explosion? I’m not sure but my CSI splatter analysis suggests the latter. It must have been absolutely spectacular.

What was even more spectacular is that no one was helping the young man clean it all up. He had grabbed a couple of napkins and was futilely trying to wipe the mustard from his pants but he mostly just looked overwhelmed and embarrassed. Two of the six tables in the restaurant were occupied – one with parents and their teenage children and another larger family with a few adults and lots of young kids. It was, without a doubt, impossible to not notice what had happened which made it so surprising to me that no one was moving a muscle to assist. Everyone had witnessed it and then just… continued on. Like nothing had happened.

I assigned Charlie and Millie to an open table that wasn’t dusted in mustard and went to help, interrupting the lady at the counter to ask for some paper towels and then returning to start wiping up the tables and the chairs and the floor while the young man looked at me and tried to explain that he had no idea what had just happened. I reassured him it was all okay and after several minutes, we had made some good progress. An employee eventually emerged to help. We all worked together a little bit longer and had most of it wiped up in short order. When we went to throw the mustard-covered paper towels in the garbage, the young man looked at me, smiled, and said, “I’m going to smell like mustard all day now.” I laughed and offered to hold the door open for him as he left with his tray of drinks and paper bag filled with burgers and fries and most likely, too much mustard.

Then, our order came up and the kids and I devoured our food, talked about how crazy that mustard thing was, and left in search of ice cream.

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So much going on in this world right now makes me feel completely and utterly helpless. Not hopeless. I haven’t lost hope. But, it feels like there isn’t enough helping going on anymore. I think that’s what brings me the greatest despair. The lack of genuine compassion for one another. Sometimes, it feels like no one has the space or the patience to just be kind.

I can donate my time and I can donate my money and I can speak passionately and I can listen empathetically and I can educate myself and I can advocate for others and I can rearrange our entire November vacation to be home in time to vote at our local precinct in the mid-term elections because I’m a little leery of absentee voting and it just seems better to be there on that day to vote in person, right?

I can do all of those things. And, I can show my children how to be helpers. How to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. How to imagine a situation – a life – that is different than their own. How to see a need and then fill it. How to clean up mustard with sub-par, non-absorbent, eco-friendly paper towels.

In the tiniest, seemingly inconsequential of ways and in the biggest, most significant of ways, helping others, compassion for others, kindness for others, matters.

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