My post last week about an incident at the mall garnered some interesting reactions, at least to me. I figured a lot of you would wonder what in the world was going on with this poor woman who refused to let me hold the door for her. And a lot of you did. But just as many wondered how I could have possibly kept hold of myself. How could I have not either burst out laughing when she fell or given her the good cussing she maybe deserved?
Truth is, I might have been calm and cool on the outside she she tripped and went splat!, but I was jumping up and down and cheering on the inside. I’m not proud of that, mind you, but I can’t deny it either.
But what kept that told-ya-so mentality from bubbling up to the surface was a story a friend of mine named John shared one day. One I’d like to share with you.
A brilliant man, John. He has two PhDs, is about to get his first book published, and is currently the head of the Christian Counseling program at Liberty University. He was also the best Sunday school teacher I ever had.
John told me that one night while he was in college, he had dinner at a local restaurant with one of his psychology professors. Their waitress was a young, twenty-something lady named Anna, who seemed to have a bit of a personality problem and could have used a refresher course in customer relations.
She was rude and offensive and vulgar. She forgot up their order twice and, when she finally got it right, rewarded John and his professor by unceremoniously dropping their plates on the table with a loud thud and walking away. They nearly died of thirst because she never returned to offer more drinks. And when she finally resurfaced forty minutes later, she greeted them with a curt “Ya’ll done?”
With a “Yes, ma’am” from the professor, she scribbled their bill onto a receipt, pushed it to the middle of the table, and walked away. Two specials, two drinks, two cups of coffee—fifteen dollars and forty cents.
“I have the tip,” the professor said. He took a ten out of his wallet and placed it between the salt and pepper shakers.
John flinched. Ten dollars? This had to be a mistake. He was going to give Anna a ten dollar tip? For what? Yelling and cussing and throwing food at them? A dollar and a half would have been plenty, the accustomed 10 percent. And that was for good service. But this wise and learned man was going to give her almost ten times that?
“Excuse me, Professor,” John said. “You just sat a ten down.”
“Yes, I did,” the professor answered.
“Are you sure you want to do that?”
“May I ask why?”
“Maybe,” the professor said. “Later.”
The two walked up to the cash register, paid for their meal, and left. Just as they were getting into the professor’s car, though, the door to the restaurant opened and out ran Anna. Crying.
“I’m so sorry,” she said through her tears. “I know I was awful to the two of you. I’ve just had such a bad day. My kid’s got the flu, I just found out my mother has cancer, and my husband left me two days ago. I just can’t take it anymore. And then I saw your tip just sitting there, and I…I just had to thank you. You don’t know what this means.”
The professor smiled. “It’s quite all right, Miss,” he said. “Things may look bad now, but I promise you they’ll get better. You just need a little faith.”
She nodded and smiled back, then turned around to go back inside. John stared at his professor, who watched as the doors closed around her.
“Remember this, John,” he said. “We are all working our way through our own story. We pass people by every day of our lives. We talk to them, nod and say hello, and we have no idea the sorts of struggles they are enduring or what pains they bear. We are all hurting in our own unique way. We have all been wounded by something. Never forget that.”
John hasn’t. And since the day I heard that story, I haven’t either. Because we all may share one world, but we each live in our own. One made bright or dim by our own faith or doubt, joy or despair.