Sometime between Child Number Two and Child Number Three (or between Autumn Child and Winter Child or between Elizabeth and Chloe or between 1996 and 2000 for those of you who keep track of such things), my wife and I were living on only my teaching and her babysitting incomes. By Friday night I considered surviving the week a considerable accomplishment if not an out-and-out miracle and a cause for great celebration. However, as we were financially impoverished for perpetuity, not too great of a celebration.
One memorable Friday evening I suggested
to her that we travel about half an hour to one of the nicer local eating
establishments, Goodfellas. The only hang up: it was the same night as
the ring dance for the high school where I taught mathematics. By Friday night I typically tried to avoid
all contact with anyone under the age of 18, my own children not included, and
thus all restaurants that might be playing host to the students. But this evening we threw caution to the
wind, arranged for a babysitter, and went out on a date.
Sure enough, upon arrival at the restaurant
we recognized two couples—on a double date—eating dinner before the dance. Fortunately, these were some of the finest my
school district had to offer, four great kids that I didn’t mind seeing. It seemed that they had arrived only shortly
before we did. I think I may have gone
over and said hello before taking my seat, but in any case I acknowledged them
and didn’t intrude.
Susan and I were seated, ordered, and
then had a very pleasant dinner.
Conversation might have been about Michael and Elizabeth, or school, or
math, or perhaps we just sat staring at each other. Most likely math.
Towards the end of dinner our waiter
approached our table and announced that our bill had been taken care of for
us. I remember thinking that people only
say that in the movies and never in real life.
No one just pays for your meal without good reason. On the other hand, the waiter was just
standing there and was not acting as if this was a joke. When we asked by whom, he gestured to the
four high school students on their way out the door.
We were stunned, grateful, and
amazed. When every dollar seemed to
weigh more than it should have, this was a true gift.
Later we found out that the church
minister for one of the young men had also been at Goodfellas that evening and had done for the four of them what the
students did for us. He covered their
bill as he was on the way out. The fact
that these teenagers chose to “pay it forward” to us made it no less
remarkable. Maybe even more so. They had money in their pocket that they were
planning on spending. They had the
chance to keep it all, but chose not to.
Since that time I have been the
recipient of many, many gifts from students, parents, and community businesses
and members. These gifts have helped to
make teaching worthwhile even when the paycheck has fallen short of what we
need. I am grateful for everything that
has been done for me. However, none have
touched my heart as deeply as when that waiter said to us “Your bill has been
taken care of.” Thank you.