Ever have one of those days when you cannot do anything right? Whether at home or work, no matter what you touch, it goes downhill quickly.
And as quickly as those mistakes are made, the worse and worse your mental and emotional state become. Eventually, you either want to tell the boss to jump in a lake, cry or just crawl into a ball.
I cannot recall her name. She had to be nearing 50, working the breakfast shift at a Waffle House in Laurel one holiday season. The small restaurant overflowed with activity. People waited for tables. Waitresses barked orders to a pair of cooks who, somehow, comprehended the Waffle House gibberish into plates full of food.
My wife Michelle and I sat next to the counter watching this one waitress in particular who seemed to be getting the brunt of the battle-ax of a manager. The manager had an aura of a person who lets the smallest bit of power go to her head. She barked and wailed out instructions, yet not tending to any of the dirty tables — another way one can size up the quality of a manager.
She laid into our waitress relentlessly. The tired woman, we later found out, was a single mother turned grandmother raising her grandbaby, and she took it all, somehow. Her face tightened with a mix of sadness and anger. Her hands shook.
“I don’t need this right now … I don’t need this right now,” she muttered under her breath.
“Look at us,” we told her, “Just look at us …”
She managed a small smile but quickly went back to getting barked at for, what we could see, little or no reason other than the manager being a first-class witch (typo made on purpose).
Likely, she did need that job, though. Christmas was approaching. But she never deserved that kind of verbal abuse.
I looked at Michelle, and she looked at me, and a tradition was borne that day out of the misery of how one human being could treat another. We had just recently been married, were DINKS — Dual Income, No Kids — and were doing pretty well. We had just gotten Christmas bonuses and had a pocketful of money.
The bill came, about 25 bucks if I can remember correctly, and we started emptying the pockets. If ever anyone deserved to know that she was special, that she had an affect on someone, it was this sweet, 50ish Waffle House waitress.
We attached $100 onto our bill and handed her the wad of cash. She looked at it, saw the total due, then looked at us.
“Merry Christmas,” we told her. She started crying, not because of the verbal abuse, but because someone saw her as she was — a human being. The larger-than-normal tip probably didn’t change her life for very long.
It most certainly changed ours.
Out of that one incident of a manager letting just the slightest bit of power go to her head, a holiday season tradition sprouted. Each Christmas morning, we wake up and head to a Waffle House, albeit not in Laurel anymore. We will gorge ourselves in coffee, and Michelle will see how many bottles of maple syrup she can go through without coating the floor. When the bill arrives, we will empty our pockets again to not only realize and understand how the two of us have been blessed beyond belief, but that there are so many people who need the extra boost, if just for a moment to feel that no matter what might be going on in their lives, they are loved.
If you have done such an act in the past, please continue to do it. It might not be a waitress at the Waffle House — maybe the hopper on the back of the garbage truck who, week after week, is there doing a foul job of cleaning up your filth. It might be the custodian at the local bank or it might just be someone you encounter who is having the worst day of his or her life.
A small gesture will change their lives for a short time, but it will change yours forever. You can take that to the bank — and while you are there, get a little extra out and let someone know he or she is loved.
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Sean Murphy at