The other day I decided to take my daughter to breakfast one morning before getting started with the day’s errands. We were still recovering from a car accident we had a month and half ago and had places to visit for treatment so I was still not back to work yet. We decided the local IHOP sounded like as good a place as any to get a bite to eat since we both like pancakes and they are reasonably fast and affordable. We exited the car, but just then my daughter received a phone call from one of her friends, who she had not talked with in an awhile. My daughter elected to hang back and speak outside in private while I entered the restaurant. The hostess asked me how many and after telling her someone else would be joining me she proceeded to head towards the dining room, menus in hand looking for a place for two. Just as I was being seated the guy two tables over let out a loud belch.
Wow. My first thought was, really dude, this isn’t the beer hall or the German deli. Burping is a compliment to the host for enjoying really rich tasting food in some places in Europe, but I was pretty sure IHOP wasn’t one of those places. A few minutes passed and my thoughts were interrupted by the volume of the conversation and colorful language from my eruptive neighbor and his guest. My curious nosy, investigator self couldn’t miss that this young twenty something and his breakfast companion were pouring over paper work, laptops and doing some sort of strategizing. The volume of their conversation was much louder than normal. In fact I think they believed themselves to be in their own private little conference room instead of the middle of the IHOP dining room. Perhaps they were the next Jobs or Gates planning the latest release of some new high tech gizmo or gadget that will make our lives simpler by not requiring we see, hear, or interact with our fellow human beings. In any case I was getting hungry, and my breakfast neighbor’s loud and crude conversation was starting to disturb my calm, especially without my first cup of coffee yet.
RING, RING….RING RING…. RING RING….My heart began pounding and my temples starting playing the rumba as I searched the room for the fire or threat that I was certain was coming as no human being could have originated this sound…. what a cell phone ring tone like the old fashion ones, that loud?? Really?? My breakfast neighbor must be stone deaf I thought. Anyway my blood pressure was just starting to reach popping point when Mister Burp began his telephone conversation in a really loud voice. HELLO THIS IS JIM. OH HI WE ARE JUST ABOUT READY TO MEET FOR THE PROPOSAL, IS THERE ANYTHING ELSE WE CAN DO OR BRING TO THE MEETING, OH OKAY BLAH BLAH BLAH.. I motioned for the hostess. I am normally reasonable and believe that people have a right to have a conversation, however I am a firm believer that said conversations should be private not for other humans to be forced to hear while savoring syrupy sweet boysenberry pancakes. I demanded that I please be re-seated since my breakfast neighbor did not seem to mind he was disturbing me and quarter of the restaurant with his business meeting. It was as if I and my fellow restaurant patrons were invisible.
I am of the generation that did not originally have telephones we carried with us everywhere when we grew up. When we needed to make a call or get a call we excused ourselves and our company and left the dining room and made the call, in private. Courteous behavior dictated that a gentleman does not talk about personal matters in public let alone the middle of a restaurant or bathroom stall for that matter. You’re not one of those are you? Times have certainly changed and not necessarily for the better in my opinion.
After being seated my daughter came to the table with red eyes as though she had been just crying. I did not know what was wrong, and then she told me her best friend had called to tell her that her mother was just diagnosed with stage four cancer and the prognosis was not good, in fact terminal was the word that was used. A stabbing sensation came over me as my wife and I have known the mother for years as a casual acquaintance and had no idea she was even ill. Breakfast was turning out to be a real bummer at this point. Our waitress apologized as the hostess had relayed the message about Mr. Burp and my dissatisfaction of the seating arrangements but when she noticed my daughter crying and my stoic but visibly shaken countenance she continued to apologize. Only then did I explain what had just transpired and the waitress, after some further apologizing and sincere empathy took our order. Within a few minutes another waitress stopped by our table and leaned down towards my daughter and me and said it was going to be okay. Our waitress must have conveyed our story to the other wait staff. This other waitress then explained that things happen for a reason and proceeded to tell us how one of her close family members had been diagnosed with cancer recently and that miraculously she was healed and has made a full recovery.
Part of me said to myself sure but how far advanced was your family member’s condition, was it stage four? The circumstances were most certainly different; but another part of me heard this woman, at the very moment my daughter and I were feeling terrible, and recognized what she really was doing. She was taking time out of her life to provide a brief moment of comfort to total strangers. What a concept. In the span of just ten minutes or so I experienced an insensitive rude narcissist and a compassionate and caring fellow human being serving more than just a plate of pancakes. I then commented to my daughter that our current suffering from the car accident did not sound so bad compared to what her friend and family was going through. She agreed. I think young people today need to remember to lift their heads up once in a while and step back from the “life simplifying devices” and recognize there is a real world out there with real people and real problems in it. Serving humanity is our purpose not pretending it does not exist.