Abraham Joshua Heschel
I had noticed the grey haired old lady at the local Cafetaria for some time now. She seemed to be a regular customer and I hadn't given her much thought other than to observe that she invariably arrived after we did, and that she was always on her own. Sunday was slightly different. She had managed to get in earlier than we did for our Sunday afternoon break, and was sitting at a table that was laid for her, or so it appeared.
Unusually for that time of the day, around 3 p.m., several people wandered in and started to occupy the free places. That was about when I observed a subtle change in customer behaviour. The old lady jumped up with her plate of soup and stepped up to the bar. The bar, as are most in this country, is about chest high to a person of normal height. She is short and slight, which meant that only her upper shoulders and head were above bar level. But she managed to get the plate and bread roll and spoon onto the bar, then turned around to retrieve her plastic bags that she had placed by the seat that she had been recently occupying.
The drama continued to unfold. The owner-brother that was serving customers (the other owner-brother was tending bar) grabbed her plate and roll and spoon from off the bar and placed it all firmly back on the table that she had vacated only a few moments before. He then wrested the plastic bags out of her hand and placed them, equally firmly, by the chair that he was pointing to fiercely indicating that she sit down. All this while castigating her openly and volubly!
I am not well-versed in the Portuguese language, certainly not familiar enough with it to follow the machine-gun rapidity of the exchanges, so I did what I usually do and turned to Maria for an explanation. I noticed she had a whimsical half-smile on her face, not the expression I expected from somebody observing an altercation of such apparent magnitude. The explanation was not what I expected either, but it all made sense.
The old lady, somebody's grandmother, mother, sister, is a lonely old lady who lives on her own in the neighbourhood. She visits the Cafetaria daily, usually after the lunch-hour rush is over and the place has emptied. She is served a bowl of soup and a bread roll which usually has a slice of cheese inserted into it. She eats this gratefully, gathers up her bags, thanks everybody profusely, bids good afternoon to any customers present, and leaves in a dignified manner.
No mention of payment ever arises!
I wondered for how long this had been going on. "Forever!" was the noncommittal reply from her that sits by my side. The owners of the Cafetaria are also local residents and are aware of her circumstances. They do not find it an imposition to serve her a bowl of soup each day, nor do they find their actions unusual in any way. Neither brother would even consider accepting a congratulatory comment, and would probably be offended if their actions were considered a 'charitable' act.
It is just something they do!
What was the commotion about? It appears she felt that she was unnecessarily occupying a perfectly good seat in the establishment that had suddenly, and unexpectedly filled up. To ease the seating problem she decided to move to the bar, finish her little repast, and take her leave as quietly as she had arrived. But Jorge (pronounced George), the younger brother, was having none of it. He insisted loudly, for all the customers to hear, that she was as valued a diner as anybody else, and that she was going to finish her meal at the table at which he had served her. So, there!
Her meal over, I observed her carefully wrap half the bread roll in a diffidently retrieved paper napkin, gather up her belongings and with a nod and a beatific smile to all, take her leave.
Kindness manifests itself in so many ways.
I think I should let Martin Luther King Jr. have the last word. He once said, "Life's most urgent question is, what are you doing for others?"
P.S. I am in the process of closing down several of my websites and thought it was worth rescuing some of the posts from other 'blogs' I've run in the past..
This post is one of them.
My sincere apologies to those who have already read it.
The image above is from a series of "2010 Wallpapers" by a group of talented graphic artists. They are all free and if you are interested you can pick up one, or two, or ALL of them by visiting shareordie.in
For Auld Lang Syne ...
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