Bad things happen to me and I ask, “Why?”
The other night, my wife and I took our 11-year-old son and his friend to dinner, and two total strangers sitting across the way paid our bill. They told us we were a “lovely young family.”
“God bless you,” the guy with our tab said.
I asked, “Why?”
Whether good things or bad things happen to me, I’m always asking, “Why?”
Why? Why can’t I accept things as they are and not question the reason or meaning of it all?
It’s not easy crafting these “why sandwiches,” and they’re by no means your typical bologna and cheese. Rather I make a mean Dagwood.
Look at my 30th year alive: Doctors discovered that my perfectly good heart had a problem, and they said I had to get a pacemaker. I asked, “Why?” and added all the fixings to my concern. Around the same time I wrote and directed a fairly mediocre viral ad campaign that got inducted into the Viral Hall of Fame, and again I asked, “Why?” and followed that up with, “That silly ol’ thing I made?”
I simply cannot believe that I deserve the worst or the best, so I couldn’t wrap my head around two businessmen I never met paying for my meal.
“What are they after?” I asked my wife. “You think they’re gonna pitch us aluminum siding or try to include us in some pyramid scheme? It can’t be mere kindness.”
“Or maybe that’s all it is,” my wife replied.
“Should we buy them drinks?” I asked.
“No,” she said. “We should just accept the gesture.”
“How do we accept the gesture? Do we ask how we can help them?”
“No, we say thank you.”
I never thought of that.
My wife and I got up and took our son and his friend over to the two gentlemen, shook hands and offered our gratitude. That was it. Then we walked out, never to see them again.
Guilt—my companion for life. It didn’t need to set in. It’s always there. I kept asking myself, Should we have done more? Should we have exchanged contact information so we could stay in touch? By accepting such a gift are we saying we deserve and demand money to be thrown at our feet?
My wife knows how guilt haunts me constantly, and she asked, “Why can’t you accept the gesture? You deserve it.”
“Who says I can’t accept the gesture?” I asked. “OK, I can’t accept the gesture. It’s just not right—people don’t do that kind of thing.”
Despite how it seems, I was more than grateful, believe me. Money’s been tight, and my wife and I should’ve stayed in for dinner that night. After a long day of work, however, neither my wife nor I wanted to cook. It was my suggestion to dine out. I can’t help it—I love restaurants, especially the whole they-do-all-the-cooking-and-cleaning part of it.
Luckily my wife explained how going to restaurants is expensive and tried to reason with me.
“We’ll order waters instead of soda,” she suggested. “That’ll save us twenty bucks right there.”
Needless to say, we had no business inviting our son’s friend to dinner with us, but he happened to be there when we impulsively decided not to eat at home.
We enjoyed the night. And the food was delicious. I wasn’t worthy.
“There’s nothing you can do about it now,” my wife said days later when I was still obsessing.
“There is something I can do about it,” I said. “I can pay it forward.”
The plan was to go out, find a lovely young family enjoying their meal, and pay their tab.
Before all the “whys” could pile up, I just acted. We didn’t even sit down to eat. I picked out a family from the foyer of the restaurant, and when the hostess asked, “How many?” I pointed and asked for “their bill.”
When the couple and their two sons came over to greet us, they said, “How kind of you, thank you so very much . . . We can’t accept.”
Then they paid for their food and walked out, never to see us again.
I was hanging on their last words, and true to form I asked, “Why?”
This National Society of Newspaper Columnists award-winning story originally appeared in The Acorn Newspapers of Los Angeles and Ventura counties, CA, in May of 2015. You can find it and other stories like it from Michael Picarella at MichaelPicarellaColumn.com.