On our journey home from visiting family, we stop at a restaurant for a late dinner. Our waitress, an older woman with silver hair, might have been tired from her shift or just angry that yet another family with young children has come to her section. Whatever the reason, she seems impatient, frustrated, and just unpleasant.
I take a deep breath. This is going to be a fun dinner, I think sarcastically.
But as our meal comes out, the waitress starts asking questions about our children. She inquires about their ages and then tells us she has three grandchildren right in that age range.
“Oh,” I say politely, still not liking her one bit.
“I’m raising them,” she continues. “Right as I was about to retire, my son was killed, and I inherited his three little children to raise on my own by myself.”
I’m cut to my core.
We learn her son was murdered. She raises her grandchildren. Alone. She works as a waitress when she wanted to retire.
It’s the very end of her shift, and it’s getting late. Nevertheless, she pulls up a chair and takes a seat because she remembers we said we were traveling back up to Penn State.
“How are you handling the news?” she asks, shaking her head and genuinely concerned for us.
And so we talk for a bit. She wants to make absolutely sure I love my chicken. She wants to make absolutely sure I don’t need more tea.
She shares more about losing her son, raising her grandchildren, and what it’s like to live in this town.
We finish our meal and promise in our hearts never again to judge a waitress (or anyone!) in a bad mood. We just can’t know what her life is like. We just can’t know her story.
I’m going to remember this when I become angry with someone who cuts me off in traffic, treats me poorly in line, or doesn’t provide good customer service. I just can’t know their story, so I want to respond with patience, kindness, and compassion.