A few days before Christmas, I was coming home late after being out attending to some delicate family matters, and I stopped at my favorite local Chinese restaurant for some food to bring home for supper. After placing my order with the manager, I decided to sit at the bar and wait for my order.
There were two young professional women, perhaps into their early thirties, sitting in conversation near the south end of the small bar, so I walked to the north end, sat down on the corner where I’d have a view of the door leading to the kitchen, and ordered myself a beer.
After several minutes, a cell phone began to go off raucously, and one of the women turned, reached into her bag, and eyeballed the noisy phone. She glanced at her friend, and said: “Wait, it’s my kids…”
“Hi buddy… uh-huh… I’ll be home at like 9:40. I know… I know… Is Dad home? Probably not, huh… OK…Listen, it’s only 40 minutes… it’s really only 37 minutes… Is Sarah in bed yet? Good. You be in bed by 9:30, OK? I know… I know… look, it’s only 36 minutes now. You be a good boy now; I gotta go. See you soon.”
As they refreshed their cocktails, the women rekindled their conversation, now loudly enough that I couldn’t but hear them in the otherwise quiet room. The second woman, who had had her back to me, turned toward the bar to stir her drink, so I could now see her in profile. She was heavily made-up, wearing silly and ostentatious jewelry, and an expensive-looking blouse that fit like a nice driving glove should. She held her drink between both hands on the bar, and delved back into a saga already half-told:
“He was telling me about all the things I used to do to piss him off, like ‘All those things I did in my room’… and I’m like ‘What things?’ He goes, ‘Like how it was all black, and how I was doing that witchcraft and stuff’…”
The first woman – the one with the attention-seeking cell phone and interrupting children – snorted, and quipped:
“So, did you like tell him that this is the 2010s? Get real…”
“Can I brag for a minute? That was my son Toby, you know? The big fella brought home his first real report card yesterday. He had two A’s, 4 or 5 B’s, and 2 C’s. And the C’s were, like, not even fair. I was so proud of him. He works unbelievably hard, especially for a little guy. And his father is, like, No. Help. At. All!”
I spotted the manager coming out of the kitchen holding my dinner, so I quickly drained what was left of my beer, pushed a tip toward the bartender and thanked him, and intercepted the manager as he came around the corner of the front desk.
As I took the food and turned toward the door, I glanced back at the women at the bar, shook my head slightly in sorrow, and counted my blessings. And then I said a prayer for Toby and Sarah. I suppose I also should have said a prayer for those two young women, and the one’s husband, and the other’s father. But at the time, I just couldn’t see past the kids. Thank God for his grace in my life…