Cracker Barrel—A young woman walked past me. She walked with a heavy gait and awkward steps. She waved at every person she saw.
She had Down syndrome. I don’t know how old she was. Early thirties maybe.
The waitress took her order, but the girl was in no mood to order.
“YOU ARE A PRETTY WAITRESS!” the girl said in a voice loud enough to register on most recently calibrated Richter scales.
The waitress—early sixties, wiry—smiled. “Why thank you, sweetie. What’s your name?”
“MY NAME’S RINDA!” the girl said.
“Rinda? Pretty name.”
“NO, NOT RINDA YOU DUMBASS! L-L-LINDA! WITH AN ‘L!’”
Linda let out a laugh. So did the waitress. So did everyone who heard it.
Linda might be the happiest person I’ve ever seen.
My own waitress was young. Hispanic. And even though she was as radiant as a pot of coffee, I could tell she was tired.
She wore a button on her apron which read: “Soy Amada.”
I ask about the button.
“It means ‘I am loved,’” she said. “My mom’s from Mexico, she gave it to me.”
“Soy amada,” I said.
“See?” she said. “Now you are loved.”
How about that.
After breakfast, I drove toward the grocery store for my wife. She had given me a list a mile long.
It’s important to note: in our entire marital career, I’ve never made a successful grocery run. Usually, I’ll do something like accidentally buy the only brand of coffee creamer which she thinks tastes like fresh baby vomit.
On the way to the store, I saw a man standing in the median. He held a handwritten poster reading: “Need food, God bless.”
The minivan ahead of me turned on its hazards. A blonde woman stepped out and handed the man several plastic bags.
I saw the man sit on the grass and eat. Traffic whizzed by him while he drank Coke from a two-liter bottle and ate Doritos.
I walked into the supermarket. There, I met an employee named Ellen. She was silver haired. She wore a cast over one arm. She was stocking fruit juice bottles.
I asked about her arm.
“Oh this?” Ellen said. “This is to prevent the swelling. Had to wear it ever since I had breast cancer.”
The cancer had spread to Ellen’s lymphatic system. Surgery was in order. Ever since the operation, her arm swells.
“Sometimes, it gets so bad my fingers turn into sausages and I can’t move’em. This cast helps.”
But Ellen doesn’t mind the cast. She says it’s a small price to pay for being alive. And she loves being alive.
“People don’t tell you that cancer’s non-stop fear, twenty-four seven. You can’t even sleep. I was afraid ‘cause I didn’t have no husband or anyone. I was all alone.”
When the doctor told her she was in remission, she was reborn. Fear disappeared. She called everyone she knew. She took a roadtrip to Colorado.
Before we parted ways, I almost gave Ellen a hug, but I didn’t. I wish I would have now.
Anyway, if you’ve read this far, you’re probably wondering what in the name of Chet Atkins you are reading. I suppose the answer is: I don’t know.
I don’t know why a fool like me writes about people who hold cardboard signs at busy intersections, or about girls with Down syndrome in Cracker Barrels.
None of these people cured a major disease, solved the national debt, wrote a famous song, or led any groundbreaking social movements.
So I don’t have an answer for you. Except to say that sometimes I am so proud to be a part of the human race, I just feel like saying it.
And so are you.