Sunday, November 12, 2006


I saw him come into the restaurant. I was in a small airport sitting through a flight delay. Worry started tugging at my mind as the hours went by. Soon, I knew, the flight would be cancelled and I would be stuck for the night. The whole itinerary rested on me making this flight - tonight. The cafe was the typical type - burgers, fries and egg salad sandwiches. I chose to sit by the window so I could look out over the runways. I think the cobalt blue lights on airport runways are stunning. They cheered me. It was as if someone left a string of Christmas lights lying on the ground.

His task was simple. Wipe the table. Move to the next. He was so methodical. He carefully wiped each table, one after the other, and on each table he set the salt, pepper and napkin holder in a perfect symmetry. No pleasure showed in his face, only concentration, the desire to do the job right. I noticed the woman at the cash register watch him and her love reached out to support him through each movement. She nodded at each correct completion and tensed at each new table. It didn't take a genius to see her will him through the task as she had probably willed him through much of his life. He never glanced to her but I'm sure he felt her gaze.

In the middle row of the three in the restaurant sat a woman distractedly reading the newspaper, checking her phone for a message that wasn't coming and glacing out the window for the plane which had not yet arrived. She didn't see him but then he was standing there, right behind her. His eyes focused on the table. He saw the dishes that needed to be removed and a table that needed to be wiped. Indecision wafted over his face. He stood there. Lost.

I glanced to his mother. She had her arms wrapped round her, holding herself back. Her natural desire to help, to intercede, seemed captured by those arms. She did nothing. She waited. Then, suddenly, he moved. He stepped around the woman at the table and moved to the next table. She sighed and her relief almost undid her. She caught me looking and she said simply, "My son." I looked at her and said, "I know." We smiled at each other, then she was back to watching him.

The hardest thing to do - is wait - give over - stand aside. People never grow if they are constantly pruned - interfered with - assisted. He needed the chance to think things through. To make a decision. To figure it out for himself. His mother gave him those gifts. She didn't prompt - she let him think for himself. Her faith in him was shown by the time she gave him. She learned the most important thing that she needed to learn - "It's not about me, shut up."

When working with the self advocates from the Essex County Association for Community Living as they developed a "Bill of Rights" for service, they came up with one that was astounding. "The right to the extra five minutes we need to think." Self advocates made it clear that they knew that they needed a bit more time to process and wanted us to just 'shut up' and let them do it.

I'm glad I'm the grandchild of farmers. I learned that between the planting and the reaping is always the waiting - the watching - the trusting. The mother in the restaurant had planted a skill in her son and had the courage to give him the dignity of time to grow. And what do you know - he did.


Belinda said...

Dave, You've told a wonderful story with skill and wisdom and the lesson you share is one that could as easily fit in a book on management/leadership, parenting or teaching. As always, good food for thought, served up on a beautiful platter.

Anonymous said...

Your words "People never grow if they are constantly pruned - interfered with - assisted" really made me ponder my role as a parent, supervisor and friend. They are words I will refer to when I feel I need to step in to a situation. Thank you!
btw: i'm a long time reader, but first time commenter
- Erin

Anonymous said...

Ok, How did you know I needed to read this today?
a parent