I’m in a hotel dining room, eating breakfast. Everyone is wearing masks, some are wearing latex gloves. I am wearing a bandanna around my face like I’m about to rob a stagecoach.
Even so, these scary modern times haven’t changed the state of the American hotel continental breakfast. Nothing can change that. I’m pleased to report that hotel eggs still taste like they were manufactured by the Reebok corporation. And all “sausage-like” products still taste like deflated footballs that were cooked on the radiator of an old Chevy.
The first thing I see in this dining room is a young family, hands folded, eyes closed. They are saying grace. The youngest boy is bowing his head in exaggerated reverence. Eyes shut tightly.
When they finish praying, I hear a communal “amen.” Everyone lifts their masks, and begins to eat.
“Mom?” says the boy. “What does amen mean?”
I love overhearing this kind of stuff. And I’m glad I overhear the kid ask this because sometimes I wonder whether kids still ask these wonderful questions.
As it happens, I remember when I asked my granddaddy the same thing. I was a 5-year-old. We’d just finished saying grace.
“What’s it mean?” was Granddaddy’s reply. “Aw, well, amen just means ‘over and out,’ ‘ten-four, captain, ‘aye aye, sir.’”
And the thing is, I completely understood what he meant because Granddaddy spoke fluent Kid.
So here I am eating my manufactured “meatish” product, listening to parents explain the mysteries of Ecclesiastical Latin words to a child and I’m smiling. Because I live for this kind of stuff. I love to people-watch.
In fact, during the pre-pandemic era, when I traveled a lot, hotel breakfasts were my favorite moment of the day because you could people-watch all you wanted. I’m finding that people-watching during the COVID era is just as interesting, only a little more poignant somehow.
Three tables over from me, for instance, is a woman and her daughter, eating breakfast in silence. The woman’s daughter looks maybe 15 or 16, and the girl is very pregnant.
Her mother is worrying over her like a busy hen, making sure she has everything she needs. The mother keeps asking, “Are you comfortable, sweetie? Are you in pain?”
“Mom,” says the girl, in a teenage whine.
The mother answers, “You need to eat, we have another long day at the hospital.”
All of a sudden they both look like they’re going to cry. Soon they are holding hands across the table. Their voices become whispers.
“Don’t worry,” says the mother. “The doctor said not to start worrying yet. We need to wait for the tests.”
“I’m scared,” says the daughter.
“I know. But you’re gonna be fine.”
Several feet away from them is a man in business attire, playing on his phone. He looks lonely. Nothing looks more lonely than a man in dressy casual, scrolling on a phone, eating alone.
His phone rings. He answers, which is considered a breach of etiquette in all dining rooms. In fact, this is one of the rudest things a guy can do, hotel-wise. It’s only a few steps beneath belching in the elevator.
But if I’m being honest, I’m glad he answered because on the other end of his phone conversation I overhear the voice of a child saying, “Daddy!”
The man’s face erupts in a smile when he hears this and he whispers, “I can’t talk now, honey.”
Then he listens, nodding and saying, “I miss you, too, sweetheart. Uh-huh. Yes. Okay. I know. Oh, I love you so much. I miss you every second. Always and forever.”
When he hangs up, his face has completely changed. And I know exactly who he’s thinking about.
But today’s people-watcher’s gold medal goes to the woman responsible for keeping this dining room sanitized and clean. She is clad in mask, apron, face shield, and rubber gloves. She is tireless in her efforts.
This woman has been constantly scrubbing surfaces, disinfecting tables, wiping counters, mopping hallways, collecting garbage, and asking breakfast guests if they need anything.
She says to me, “Joo wanna refill on that coffee, sir?” Her accent is Spanish.
“No thanks,” I say. “I’m okay. Gracias.”
She smiles from behind her mask. “No hay problema.”
And I don’t know why, but I am touched by her honest eyes when they smile. Because here is an older woman, working her tail off beneath 50 pounds of personal protective gear, tending a to-do list that’s five miles long, and somehow she is concerned about the state of my coffee. If that’s not kindness, I don’t know what is.
I find even more additional kindness in my final glimpse of Mother and expectant teenage daughter. And I feel a surge of something hopeful run through me when I watch. Because even though this world is a mess, there is undiluted beauty in little corners.
The mother is helping her daughter put on a coat, one sleeve at a time, the way you might help a 5-year-old. Then she helps her daughter with her mittens. And you can see the girl is a little embarrassed. She’s also worried about something.
The daughter says quietly, “I’m scared, Mom. What if something happens? What if…?”
Mom leans forward to kiss her child’s forehead. And even though the daughter can’t see her mother’s face during the kiss, I can see it. And I wish I could save a snapshot of the watery expression found in the mother’s eyes. For it’s the same face I believe heaven gives its children whenever they say “amen.”
Christina - January 25, 2021 6:37 am
I love that you never seem to run out of seeing kindness all around!
Nancy Vining - January 25, 2021 6:49 am
Amen Sean. From your lips, to G*d’s ears!
susiemac - January 25, 2021 9:21 am
Thank you, Sean. You are such a good way to start the day.
MermaidGrammy - January 25, 2021 9:45 am
A bandana does no good. Otherwise – another wonderful start to my day!
oldlibrariansshelf - January 25, 2021 10:15 am
If we were neighbors and this were not the COVID era I would hug you ’til your feet were lifted off the ground, Sean Dietrich!
Joe Dorough - January 25, 2021 10:46 am
Amen! So be it! 10=04! Thanks Sean!📈
Paul S Gawrych - January 25, 2021 11:44 am
Absolutely beautiful and we need more people that can speak fluent kid – Amen!
Tammy S. - January 25, 2021 12:13 pm
Amen!! Or, as our grandson use to say when he was 4ish, before he reached the mature age of 8,
“Awwman, Awwman.” 🥰 Thanks Sean
Susan Nelms - January 25, 2021 12:15 pm
So good! Thank you!
joan moore - January 25, 2021 12:33 pm
May you travel in safety and well-being.So be it.
Heidi - January 25, 2021 1:37 pm
Every day you bring me a little hope.
Wallace Garner - January 25, 2021 1:44 pm
I been reading your daily articles every morning about two years now and I can’t tell you how they lift me for the day. God bless you and keep writing.
Jo Ann - January 25, 2021 1:45 pm
Everyone has a story. Thanks for sharing some of them with us, Sean. It’s good to think about others for a change. Amen.
Jan-e Thornton - January 25, 2021 1:49 pm
No, this one is the best one.
walter buehler - January 25, 2021 2:00 pm
thank you for another great message. Please remember that although amen is used in ecclesiastical Latin, its origin is Hebrew.
Melanie - January 25, 2021 2:07 pm
Sean find an excuse to go into a bank wearing your bandana. My husband wears one (he wants to look like a bada$$ ha) and the day he got to walk up to a bank counter like that was one of the best days of his life🤣 He just thought it was the greatest thing ever. He’s 70 years old 🤠
Jan - January 25, 2021 2:36 pm
I love seeing the world through your eyes! Best part of my day! Thank you, Sean.
Steve Moore Watkins - January 25, 2021 2:51 pm
Loved the post but your bandana does little to protect others if you be infected.
Linda Chapman - January 25, 2021 3:04 pm
I love you, Sean….
Nita - January 25, 2021 3:37 pm
It absolutely amazes me how you can make a whole column out of just the simplest things and do it so well that I feel like I am sitting right there beside you observing the whole thing. Thank you so much for starting off my days with a smile and a tear – so often both!
Helen De Prima - January 25, 2021 4:08 pm
People-watching is a great writing tool. My novels are set against the background of Professional Bull Riding; I’ve picked up so much great dialogue and sensory detail hanging out behind the the chutes.
Becky Harsha - January 25, 2021 4:33 pm
When I was a kid (many years ago!) sitting in church one Sunday morning, the minister told the story of a young child who would end his prayers with “I mean it!”, thinking that’s what people were saying as they said “amen.” And 60+ years later, I’ve never forgotten it. What a wonderful – and appropriate – way to end a prayer!
Pat Rieley - January 25, 2021 5:04 pm
You are such a talented writer, Sean; and your stories always poignant or funny. Thank you for seeing the beauty in our world and loving the people in it. I love your Grandfather’s response when you asked about the meaning of Amen . . . over and out. Perfect and very close to the meaning, “So be it.”
Joanna - January 25, 2021 5:29 pm
Thank you for helping keep us all sane. I just discovered your blog and am I ever glad I did!
Linda Moon - January 25, 2021 5:37 pm
Questing Kids…..the best kind. People-watching is a good thing for this big kid. I learn so much from them. They are classrooms of LIFE. And you, Sean, writer of so many of their stories for us readers, are heavenly. Amen.
Linda Moon - January 25, 2021 5:39 pm
Questing or either Questioning Kids are best! Both words work….so I don’t have to admit to my typo above!
Mark Stewart - January 25, 2021 10:05 pm
Oops! I missed the answer to the question.
Cheryl W. - January 25, 2021 10:13 pm
I think God has chosen you and given you a little providential insight to see through the dark glass to remind us to look beyond what we think we see because there is so much more. This, along with most all of your writings, reminds us to look for the tender mercies happening all around us. Thank you for making my day every single morning.
thouse1001 - January 25, 2021 10:33 pm
Debbie g - January 25, 2021 10:59 pm
What wonderful windows you look through. So thankful for you
Erik Herrboldt - January 26, 2021 12:41 am
Thank you for your messages of kindness and love. The world needs more stories like yours. Everyday acts of love. God bless you.
Bob Brenner - January 26, 2021 5:00 pm
Tears are worthy of this story! Best wishes young lady, your mom will be there every step of the way. ❤️🙏
Frances D Lester - January 26, 2021 5:12 pm
And I ll bet that you ( and we!) Will follow the Biblical mandate, “pray without ceasing!” God bless each of those people and God bless you for bringing them to our attention!
Charaleen Wright - February 5, 2021 6:06 am
Julie - February 8, 2021 4:25 pm
Sean, if you ever see a woman in her best bathrobe (you know, the one saved for “company only”), and she’s at the hotel continental breakfast…well that is me!! Borrowing a tray, and filling it with whatever looks good…making it “to go” for her hubby in their room❣️ And yes, he is just a little bit spoiled.