With so much bad news in the world, it was refreshing to learn recently about someone’s good deed. The gesture was simple and yet profound. It didn’t cost much and yet it had immeasurable value. It was bestowed upon a single family with a special-needs child, and yet, because the story was shared thousands of times on social media, its effect has reverberated far and wide.
It all started when Ashley England and her family – husband Jason and sons Riley, 8, and Logan, 4, along with the boys’ grandmother and great-grandmother – went out to dinner at a restaurant in China Grove, N.C. At one point, Riley, who suffers from epilepsy, became frustrated when he couldn’t watch a video on his mom’s phone and acted up. He started screaming and beating on the table. Other customers noticed.
If you’ve ever been in a situation like that in a restaurant or an airplane or some other public place, then you know that it’s at this point you can feel the judgmental and unforgiving stares from others. You’re getting the message: “What kind of parent are you? Can’t you control your kid?”
England got a message of a different sort, however. She told CNN that, as her waitress was placing their food on the table, another waitress walked up to the family. She was holding a small piece of paper. With tears in her eyes, she told the family: “Your meal’s been paid for, and he wanted me to give you this note.” The message read: “God only gives special children to special people.”
England broke down and cried. Later, she posted a photo of the note on her Facebook page, along with a detailed account of what she and her family had experienced on that evening. She ended the post with this message: “Dear stranger, thank you for giving me a blessing tonight in a way you will never know.” The photo went viral, and it has now been shared with thousands of people on Facebook.
I’m glad that the story is spreading. It’s a heartwarming tale that deserves to be repeated, and it provides an example for the rest of us. It restores our faith in our fellow human beings and reminds us that the most valuable thing you can share with another person isn’t time or money but empathy.
It’s all about being able to walk in the shoes of another person. Sadly, this is one thing that Americans find hard to do these days. When there is a tragedy or national emergency, we are a compassionate and generous people. But on any regular day, we also can be found speeding through our lives, tending to our own wants and needs and consumed with our own priorities. We often don’t stop to think about how difficult others have it, let alone ask ourselves what we could do to help lighten their load.
This is especially true in the case of parents with young kids. Consider those popular but spiteful bans on children popping up in restaurants all over the country. Sometimes, it’s an outright prohibition: “No kids allowed.”
Or it’s a cutoff time; a Houston restaurant recently announced that families with young children won’t be allowed in after 7 p.m. Older customers had complained about crying and unruly kids disturbing their meals, and so the restaurant’s owners decided to create a more peaceful dining environment. The owners have that right.
Still, whenever I read these stories, I wonder: What did these people expect when they decided to dine out in a public setting? If they want a quiet and sterile environment, they can always eat at home. I’m not going to make excuses for unruly children, but it’s also not our job to pamper self-centered adults who like to complain and are used to getting their way.
These restaurant bans make us seem small, but stories like the one about what happened to England and her family make us feel big.
Let’s follow the more positive example. You don’t have to pick up a check. But the next time you’re on a plane or in a restaurant, and you see a parent struggling with a child, skip the disdainful glare and be patient instead.
The cost-benefit analysis is a no-brainer. It won’t cost you a thing. But it will benefit us all.
The Washington Post Writers Group