The restaurant was crowded that last Sunday before Christmas. Taking a lunch break from their hectic schedules, holiday shoppers joined with the “after-church-go-to-dinner folk” to make this a busy place. Just six more days until Christmas! And here I stood alone, waiting to be seated.
The seasonal decorations did little to lift my spirits; just the day before, my sister had lost her yearlong battle with cancer. Following a challenging week in the hospital, she went to sleep in Jesus on Sabbath. Always a special friend and an important part of my life, she would be sadly missed. After spending Sunday morning discussing funeral arrangements with her daughter, I decided to stop at this restaurant buffet for a quick lunch on my way home.
Following a short wait, I found myself seated alone in a booth, but with little appetite. As I bowed my head to ask a blessing on food, there was a lot on my mind that had little to do with food. My silent prayer centered on my niece, who had just lost her mother, and on the funeral service that would follow in three days. In the coming weeks there would be an empty place in the lives of family and close friends that only God could fill. These thoughts made my prayer of blessing somewhat longer than usual, and it mattered not that others might be watching.
Christmas music over the sound system could barely be heard above the happy chatter and laughter of those in the restaurant. I observed family groups and their friends as they shared this happy time together. One family sitting in the booth across from me especially caught my eye: a smiling father and mother with two well-behaved children, a little boy and girl, looked like a model family. But of everyone in the crowded restaurant, I recognized not one familiar face.
I also observed that in the entire restaurant I was the only person eating alone. The “alone” part was not unusual. Whenever I had occasion to be in a restaurant by myself, I would usually be the only one eating alone. Even after six years as a widow, I found that eating alone was not the most enjoyable experience.
But the food was good, and I was, after all, a little hungry. With no one to talk with, I tried to occupy my mind by concentrating on happy thoughts. Pleasant memories flooded my mind as I ate. Family childhood memories, teenage memories, memories of the not-so-long-ago, memories of happy times, all events shared with my wonderful sister. How much I looked forward to the resurrection!
I was almost finished eating when I realized that the server had not yet placed the bill for my meal on my table. Some of the other patrons were already finished eating and were leaving.
The family that had been sitting across from me was also leaving. I would soon be ready to go too, but I was a little puzzled because I had not yet received my bill from the server. When she finally came with no bill in her hand, she surprised me by announcing that my meal had already been paid for. Paid for by whom? I had recognized no one. What stranger would have paid for my lunch? And why?
With a big smile the server told me that the family that had been sitting across from me had paid for my meal, wishing me a very Merry Christmas. My first thought was to thank them, but they had already left, leaving instructions that I was not to be told of their gift until after they were gone. Neither the server nor I had any idea of who they were or how they could be reached.
This had never before happened to me, and I was quite at a loss for words. All I could think to say was that maybe the family were Christians. Perhaps they had noticed that I had asked God’s blessing on my food. Or maybe they detected a glimpse of sadness amid the holiday merriment. Whatever the reason, I felt blessed by their action, and my heart was touched by their kindness.
A random act of kindness? Or was it an act prompted by a loving God who knew that I could use some encouragement that very day? Either way, I’m thankful for this type of caring kindness that can be repaid only by paying it forward. Some blessings are meant to be passed on to others. How good it is that the future beckons with many occasions to spread kindness along someone’s pathway.
“Lord, make me aware of any opportunities in which a touch of kindness could bring happiness to others.”
Edith Padfield Galambos writes from Hamburg, Pennsylvania. A retired schoolteacher, she taught at Blue Mountain Academy for 27 years.