There is another life, one of utter happiness and joy, of valuing the simple, yet meaningful. After many seasons of semi-elaborate Christmases, much planning, a bit of stress and big relief afterwards, I had a turning point.
It all started at Norm’s.
All six of us were hungry. Getting six people to decide on a restaurant is always interesting, especially with this outspoken group. Taylor suggested Norm’s and shot a look at me that just begged for a reaction. He is baiting me, pegging me as a food snob. Not this time Taylor, I’m in. How bad can it be?
We waltzed through the door to encounter a line. Oh dear God, I’m actually going to wait to eat at Norm’s? We all sat down on the bench next to the big game machine with the various ugly stuffed animals and the large crane at the top, all enclosed in glass. As my mind wondered, my gaze fell on a woman seated at the counter. I had a side view of her heavily clothed body, tanned, weathered face and dirty braided hair. Homeless I thought.
A short time later, I excused myself to go to the restroom. As I pushed open the door, I saw the homeless woman at the sink wringing out her ski cap. She looked over her shoulder at me and smiled sweetly. I smiled gently back, quite sincerely. In that moment, my life’s perspective began to alter.
I asked if I could buy her dinner. She said, “But what can I do for you?”
“Oh, you don’t have to do anything,” I said. She insisted.
“Okay,” I paused, noting the cross she wore on a long chain around her neck. “You can pray for me. I really could use your prayers.”
She seemed pleased with our reciprocal agreement and we walked out into the restaurant. I passed by my friends still waiting in line and sat with her at the counter. I handed her a menu and said, “Just let me know what you’d like.” After several minutes of pretending to read it, she said sheepishly, “I can’t see well enough to read.” I began to rattle off entrees and ask her what sounded good. We finally decided upon beef stroganoff and orange juice.
My friends were now being seated, so I told her to enjoy her dinner and asked the manager to bring me her bill.
As my friends and I were chatting away about our next ski trip, the woman wondered up to me holding the bill. I was a bit perplexed since the manager had brought me her bill earlier and I had already paid it.
She thanked me for her dinner and motioned to a plastic bag with her leftovers in it. She explained that she could only eat a little bit at a time because her stomach just wasn’t right, but she was taking the rest with her. She lingered a moment and then handed me the receipt. “Would you sign this?” she asked. “I need you to sign it, to show that it was okay.” I thought, “Does she need it to show some shelter that someone bought her the food, that it wasn’t stolen or retrieved from the garbage?” I really didn’t understand, but said, “Okay, what’s your name?” She answered, “Faith.” So I wrote. To: Faith, From: Susan, and handed her the receipt. She smiled again, showing off a mouthful of missing and broken teeth. She seemed oddly beautiful, and I said, quite sincerely, “It was nice meeting you, Faith.”
That night I thought about what I wrote on that slip of paper. To: Faith, From: Susan, my simple request to be prayed for and how this homeless, poor and dirty woman was full of such grace that she seemed more beautiful than I could ever be. It was then that I realized that I hadn’t given her what she needed that night. She had given me what I needed that night. A little faith.
Susan Dodge Kuiper is a writer, mother and stepmother to three young boys. She lives in Laguna Beach with her husband and children.