I. I walked into a dining room full of tables with people sitting and talking and asking others to pass the salt. The whole scene reminded me of the fancy restaurant I used to work at on Sundays during the brunch rush, only the people at the soup kitchen actually seemed to be enjoying their food. It was my job to help serve in a buffet line. That’s where I met an older gentleman who said to me, “Hello, I’ve come for my lobster” and smiled. I asked him if he wanted a whole one, and he said, “Oh, yes, of course.” After he’d gone through the whole line and gotten beef, potatoes, salad, and fruit, he turned back to me and said, “Merci beaucoup” with a wink.
It reminded me so much of Abbita, my grandmother. When she had to get a walker to help her get around, she called it her Rolls-Royce with a smile. She lived in a comfortable little apartment, and I never heard her ask for anything, not a new TV or a fancy anything. Like the man I met last week, she seemed to know that you don’t have to have the best, biggest, or newest fill-in-the-blank to be happy, and it doesn’t matter what’s on your plate as long as you have enough to eat and good people to share it with.
Right now, as I write this in a coffee shop, I am listening to a couple talk about how they are going to get a $6,700 couch because it is the absolute best. The world is fascinating.
II. This morning I was having a terrible day. I set an alarm, but it didn’t go off, and it seemed like all my plans were ruined, and I might as well go live off the land all by myself because there was no way I would ever be a productive member of society. I decided I might as well go eat a bagel on the promenade because it was sunny, and I might as well say goodbye to the skyline before running away to live in the forest. I was walking there, wishing I’d been smart enough to buy something to drink with my bagel, when I heard, “Cupcakes and hot cocoa for sale! All proceeds benefitting the Malala Foundation!” The two little girls were about seven years old, and I could tell it had all been their idea, everything from the sign to the cupcakes was clearly made by them, and they smiled really big when they talked about Malala. The hot cocoa wasn’t really hot anymore, but it’s the best thing I’ve had all week. When I paid the market-rate price ($5) instead of their ridiculously low asking price ($1)––didn’t their parents teach them to do market research?––their jaws dropped, and I realized all my missed plans had been worth it.
P.S. I worked at the soup kitchen for a couple of hours last week. I say “work” instead of “volunteer” because there was something in it for me (who do you think I am, some kind of altruistic chump?). Devin and I shop at a food coöp, where our groceries are very, very cheap. In return, we have to volunteer once a month. There are lots of jobs you can do in-store, like being a cashier (the prices are low because most of the labor is done by members), but there are also jobs you can do outside the store, like volunteering at the soup kitchen.