There were no available tables in the swanky Italian restaurant. My date and I were waiting in a huge crowd of hungry wolves who all held those little buzzers that light up when your table is ready.
I was a mere boy.
I approached the hostess desk, I added our names to the waiting list. My voice squeaked like I’d just gone through the fourth stage of puberty. I was given a buzzer.
My new girlfriend and I were on one of our first dates. This was a girl I really liked. She had a great sense of humor and a thunderbolt mind.
It’s funny how certain you can be about somebody so early in your relationship. I’m not the sharpest spoon in the drawer, but I knew this gal was special.
I first realized this when, earlier that evening, a cop pulled us over for speeding and not only did this girl charm our way out of a ticket, but the patrolman practically invited us over for Thanksgiving.
My date and I sat together in the restaurant waiting area. We were still in that phase where you’re not sure how to act around each other.
Do you sit close together? Or is that pushy? Do you put an arm around her? Or is that creepy? Is she going to think you’re Fast Eddie if you hold her hand? Does she carry pepper spray?
So we sat with exactly nine inches between us, curtly smiling now and then. So polite.
Her hair was chocolate. Her skin was the smoothest I ever saw. She wore a powder blue blouse. Her perfume was called “Sweet Pea.”
In the foyer beside us was an old man, slumped in his wheelchair, attached to oxygen. He was dressed in an old suit, his feet were clad in ratty house slippers, and his tie looked like it had spent the last four months crinkled in a tight ball.
My date and I watched a middle-aged married couple tend to the old man’s needs. They were his caregivers.
The woman straightened the old man’s collar, and messed with his oxygen tank. The husband pushed the wheelchair, and provided comic relief for the group.
My date and I were hypnotized by watching them. They made it all look so easy.
Our society often views caregiving as grueling, dismal, thankless, self-sacrificial work. And that’s all true. Caregiving can definitely be those things. But it’s also fun sometimes. If you don’t believe me, think about it like this: being a parent is a form of caregiving.
Ask any new parent what it’s like caring for a helpless child. They will tell you, yes, absolutely, it is difficult and all-consuming work. However, nearly every parent will immediately add, “But it’s worth it.”
The old man and the younger couple seemed so comfortable with their life situation. So relaxed. They were so—dare I say it?—happy.
“I have to pee,” shouted the old man, drawing ghastly stares from the elite.
“Ssshhh, Daddy,” said the younger guy.
“Right now, dangit!”
“Okay. Calm down, Daddy.”
“Hurry up! It’s coming! And I like this suit!”
This tickled the younger man. He quickly wheeled the old man through the restaurant. They disappeared and were gone for a long time. Out of pure curiosity I visited the men’s room.
When I walked through the restroom door I saw the dynamic duo parked before the mirror. They were both smiling. The middle-aged guy was tucking in the old man’s shirt. Then he combed the old man’s hair and glanced at his father’s reflection in the mirror. He said something like:
“You’re one sexy man, Daddy.”
They both laughed, then wheeled out.
It was the most wonderful thing I ever saw.
That night, my date and I sat at our fancy table and we couldn’t quit watching them. The highlight of the night was when the caregivers fed the old man. It was a team effort. The middle-aged guy cut the food; the woman administered it. Meantime, their own plates grew cold.
And throughout the whole meal the three of them were cackling and grinning, oblivious to the prying eyes around them.
Never once were any looks of pity exchanged. There were no moments of tension at their table. And although the old man was wearing most of his cheese ravioli on his bib, nobody was even remotely embarrassed. They were a regular family.
After the old man’s meal, the woman dipped a napkin in ice water and cleaned his entire face like you might clean a child’s. The old man beamed.
My date nodded toward their table.
“See that woman?” my date said. “Someday, when my mother’s an old lady, that will probably be me.”
I reached across the table and took the young woman’s soft hand into my own. Because deep in my heart I was certain she was flat wrong about that.
Someday that would be us.