I was a senior in college applying for a waitressing job that I would only do until I figured out exactly what I wanted to do with my life. They told me this job would be part-time. They told me this job would have its ups and downs dealing with customers.
However, no one ever told me that table 13, table 31, or even seat number 2 at the bar would teach me more lessons than any professor or lecture I have ever had in school. What started off as a job to pass some time and save some money, turned into a year and a half full of friendships, conversations, and strangers that would change my life forever. Serving did a lot more than just put money in my pocket.
I will never forget the man that taught me just how short life is. He sat at table 23. The kindest man with the biggest smile ordered two appetizers, a salad, and a burger, all for a table full of just him. After acknowledging the appetite he had, he looked me in the face smiling cheek to cheek and said, “I have been terminally ill for years and I never lost my appetite.”
I was shocked, caught off guard, and slightly embarrassed that maybe I made him feel uncomfortable. After a small pause, I replied, “You look great.”
He smiled even bigger and said, “I feel great.”
He made me really reflect on how foolish I sounded when I called hitting a red light or spilling my drink “a bad day.” We have all been there. We title an inconvenient incident as a bad day, when in reality, it is nothing close to that.
I will never forget the man that taught me to make time for the ones you love before it is too late. He wore a beautiful necklace that was clearly cut in half. He sat at seat 2 at the bar. Being the curious romantic that I am, I asked who had the other half. He proceeded to tell me his wife wore it, but that he had lost her two months prior.
Again, feeling embarrassed, I stood there. If I never said anything about his necklace, I would have never known he had lost the love of his life. We kept talking and he told me that his kids lived far away and they hadn’t been with him much. It broke my heart in more ways than I could tell you.
I thought of my own father and how lonely he would be if I did not call or sit by his side when he was more alone than ever. I also thought about his kids. I didn’t know them but I was angry at them. They lost one parent and now they weren’t with the other one? I guess we are all guilty of that as well. Life gets in the way and we just kind of always expect our parents to be there, until one day they aren’t.
I will never forget the woman that taught me how important it is to have a beautiful heart and to always be kind. She sat at table 24. Nothing was wrong with her. No sob story here. In fact, she was beautiful, and she was pregnant. While table 23 was losing themselves and the man at the bar was losing someone else, this woman was bringing another life into the world.
The difference between her and the other two men is the way she spoke to me. She made it clear that I did not do my job well enough, and she made it awkward for everyone at the table: her, her husband, and myself. She made me shake in fear, and felt as if I did not have any place doing my job. She taught me that how you speak to people says more about you than it does about them. I couldn’t help but look at her stomach and wonder: How would she feel if one day her child was serving tables and someone talked down to them the way she did to me? I then felt bad for her. I felt bad that she was so hurt or angry in life that I had suddenly become the worst part of her day.
I will never forget all of these people because of the lessons they taught me. While I’m stuck at a red light, spill my drink, or continue on a morning that went wrong in every way possible, I will smile because of table 23. I will remember that I am alive, I am here, and there are people who would do anything to just have a bad morning that would end quickly after.
When I look at the clock and hours have passed without me calling my parents, I will think of the man at the bar. I will dial their number before they dial mine. I will leave them a message about how much I love them before they leave me a message about how much I hurt them. I will treasure my time with them before it turns into the time that we “had.” I will do this with all my loved ones. I will make sure those close to me know just how important they are before it is too late to tell them.
When I see someone not doing a job as well as they could, or even someone who is inconveniencing me in any way, I will remember table 24 and be kind. I will not forget that everyone is human, and that sometimes people have off days, and that is just fine. I will remember that a beautiful face does not last forever, but a beautiful soul and heart lives on far longer than we do.
Serving tables introduced me to these three people, along with many, many more. It taught me lessons that a textbook cannot teach. Serving tables did a lot more than just put money in my pocket.