Having been a registered nurse intermittently from the 1920's to the 60's in rough and tumble portions of Pittsburgh, PA, she had seen the difficult circumstances that most of her patients experienced. She had lived through a country at war, not just once, but four times. She managed through the Depression with her husband and children, experienced many siblings' deaths, felt the joy and pain of her two children's successes and failures, marveled at her seven grandchildren, grieved for the loss of her devoted husband and best friend and quietly pondered the countless daily blessings and inconveniences of the modern world.
When the waitress returned to our table looking frazzled, spent and still without drinks or food, she apologized to Mom Mom. The only words I caught were "...my youngest is home sick and I'm worried. I'm sorry." Mom Mom (who was not one for being overly affectionate), reached for the woman's hand, held her eyes in a warm gaze and nodded as if speaking in a language that only mothers know.
And I thought to myself, "you never know what she goes home to at night."
We got our food, but I couldn't quite get over my earlier behavior, so I picked at the plate of grilled cheese and french fries. "How did Mom Mom know?" was all I could think. I didn't have a concept of living a life of holy encounters or practicing a religion of kindness. I still did not know that You and I are both capitalized, not just the I. Such thoughts were still a decade in the future.
Mom Mom showed me in that instant what it meant to be human, to see eye-to-eye and to love the stranger. I was only thinking of my needs, my hunger, my wants, my, my, my...She chose to notice the Other and to connect with the waitress that was getting paid to serve us. She looked her in the eye and met the Stranger-that-is-Us there.
We bused our own table after eating--marching behind Mom Mom with our plates to the tub of dirty dishes by the waitress's drink station. Mom Mom left a tip (which I believe was sizable at the time) and we left quietly.
I don't know what that waitress did after we left. Maybe she worked a double shift. Maybe she caught a bus to the pharmacy and then home to her sick child. I could make up a novel about her life, but it wouldn't compare to hearing my dear grandmother's rebuke and instruction: you never know what she goes home to at night. So be kind in word and deed. Meet the stranger (that is both you and me) with love and understanding. Bus your table when necessary...