I believe the universe presents you with unique moments to “do the right thing”, if you’re paying attention. I’m usually aloof and only interested in me, but, every now and then, I’m in tune with the bigger world around me. (By the way, I’m not fishing for you’re-such-a-good-guy comments, but, if you must… Me: *blushing* “Oh, no! Any one with a heart would have done the same thing.”)
This is how my random act of kindness went horribly wrong. I was having lunch with a friend at a very popular seafood restaurant on Monday and also doing a bit of eavesdropping. (See, I’m not such a good person!) Soon after we were seated, an older gentleman (probably in his late 60s/early 70s) was seated at the booth next to us. Our waiter made the usual introduction, noted the specials and took our beverage order.
Next, he moved on to the elderly man with the same drill. However, in a cringe-worthy moment, the waiter unwittingly made an insensitive joke as he introduced himself to the solo diner, “Hey, you couldn’t find any one to have lunch with you.”
In a you-would-never-expect-this moment, the elderly man responded, “My wife passed away last week and this was her favorite restaurant, so I’m having lunch here for her.” He started crying and so did I. The waiter was shocked (obviously), responded with an awkward apology and sheepishly walked away.
Throughout the meal, the older man sniffled and wiped away tears, as he nibbled on shrimp and sipped his cocktail. I could feel his loss and pain. As our lunch progressed, I couldn’t stop thinking about this woman I never met and the wonderful journey the two must have experienced.
Let’s just say, I used more napkins to wipe away tears than melted butter. What are the odds that the universe would present me with a moment like this again? I knew the right thing to do was to pay for his meal. (Normally, I’m a total cheapskate, but the tight grip on my wallet loosens, when the right heartstrings are tugged. Oh, you’re a mean one, Mr. Grinch!)
As ours and his lunch was coming to an end, I patiently waited for the waiter to grab the little black folder from his table. Once he did, I quietly followed him around the corner to meet him at the register, so as to be incognito. I informed the waiter I wanted to anonymously pay for the man’s bill.
The waiter immediately excused himself for a few seconds, went out of view and returned. (This will be important later.) He, then, proceeded to shower me with compliments and happily accepted my credit card.
I must be honest, as a true-blue bargain hunter, I choked at the $50 tab for one person, but I was committed to doing the right thing. I also didn’t want to shortchange the waiter, so I added a $10 tip. (For $60, I could get six or seven lunches with the right BOGO coupon or promotion!)
I quickly returned to my table, anticipating the special moment when the older man was informed his tab was covered by a stranger. However, when I returned, his table was empty. Maybe he went to the bathroom? We waited for several minutes, but still no widower. It quickly became apparent the gentleman had left the restaurant. This is where it gets weird, disappointing and sad.
In a strange twist, the waiter did not know I witnessed the gentleman paying by cash. I quickly grabbed the waiter and inquired about not seeing the money returned to the man. Quick on his feet, the waiter pretended to run outside in the rain and catch the man in the parking lot — even though, at this point, nearly 15 minutes had passed. (Clearly, the man was long gone.)
However, he did not know we could see the entire parking lot from our vantage point. Our “friendly” waiter ran outside, stood in the rain for 15 seconds or so and rushed back in. Much to his dismay, I called him on it. (In retrospect, he was hoping I would simply assume he found the man, shared the good news and returned his money.)
I soon realized that, when I initially approached the waiter about paying the bill, his quick disappearance around the corner was to pocket the man’s money. The waiter in his late 20s, who openly talked about his wife and young daughter at every table and praised me up-and-down for my kindness, turned my generosity into greed for his own benefit. I won’t bore you with the details, but we ended up getting the manager involved and, in a final resolution, the waiter handed over the money.
It was all very awkward, uncomfortable and disappointing, as you’d expect. If I had not witnessed the gentleman paying cash, the waiter might have gotten away with pocketing a $60 “tip” from a grieving widower. He could have easily told me the man paid by credit card and I would have simply assumed he was never charged.
The experience won’t dampen my next opportunity to help a stranger, but I will be bit more cautious. (I will also be sure my next act of generosity will be at a less expensive restaurant, say McDonald’s or Taco Bell. Okay, I’m a cheapskate with a sense of humor!)
In the end, the saddest part is that this lonely gentleman left the restaurant never knowing that a complete stranger reached out to share a little love and compassion in his time of need. I also hope the waiter learned a small lesson he can share with his daughter about the importance of always doing the right thing.
Have you ever had an act of kindness go wrong or backfire?
I look forward to our next chat. And, remember, there’s always a deal, you just have to look for it. :-)