Jack sat at the table, incredibly agitated. He’d seen a man across the dining room of the restaurant and was upset by him.
The man, an older man – well into his 70s – was having a bottle of wine, eating alone.
His solitude made Jack sad, so he created a story that the man was awaiting a dinner partner. It quickly became clear that the gentleman was waiting for no one.
He’d taken himself to dinner.
This rubbed Jack’s soul the wrong way, and the more Jack watched the man, the more upset he got.
He wanted to connect with the man. Let him know that he’d been seen, that he mattered.
“I want to talk to him, but I don’t know HOW. What would be OK to do?”
Ah, the HOW. We all struggle with the right thing to do and HOW to do it.
Like there’s a prescription. Or a recipe to follow. And if we don’t have our hands on it, we don’t take action.
The more Jack didn’t take action, the more upset and physically uncomfortable he got, squirming in his chair & wringing his napkin.
We brainstormed how Jack wanted to approach the man. Would it disturb him to say hello? Did he even want company!?
Did Jack want to invite the man to come sit with us? Join us for dessert?
No. None of that felt right to Jack. “What can I SAY to him?” he pleaded, face earnest, tears in his eyes.
“Well,” I suggested, “How about you start with introducing yourself? I bet from there you’d be able to figure it out.”
“You mean – just go up and say, ‘Hi, I’m Jack’?”
“Yep. I bet he’ll introduce himself, and you can say you just wanted to come over and say hello. It will work out from there. You’ll know when the conversation is over. And we’re right here if you need us.”
He played with his napkin for a few moments, deciding on the perfect time to approach the man. When the waiter had cleared away the man’s plates, Jack decidedly stood up, went over, and talked to the man for 3 or 4 minutes.
It seemed like an hour – John & I watched from our table, stunned that this 11-year-old boy had recognized the loneliness in the man across the room and took action to do something about it.
Jack came back to report on his conversation:
“His name is Robert, and he asked me what I wanted to be when I grow up. So, I told him I want to be a History professor, and he said, I wanted to make history, but I’m a little late to the game. He was joking, I think.
“He told me he lived in Dorset and asked where I was from. He didn’t know were Syracuse is. He said it was nice to meet me and thanked me for coming over.”
That’s it, friends. That’s all it took for Jack to connect with this man.
Jack’s biggest fear? That the man would leave before Jack could get the courage to get up and walk over to him.
He told me later, “I would’ve regretted that my whole life, Mom.”
Dinner that night was emotionally hard on all 3 of us. Jack was rattled with grief and empathy for Robert. He believed Robert was alone & lonely, and it gave us the chance to talk about how brave Robert was to come out into a crowded restaurant and eat alone, rather than stay home & hide.
We talked about how I worry I’ll bother strangers when I talk to them.
John talked about how he would want to connect, but he never would – for many reasons.
But our 11-year-old son…well, he was afraid, nervous, and unsure. And he did it anyway.
That’s the definition of courage.
Believe me: I sobbed with pride and awe watching Jack walk over to the man. We all sobbed together thinking about Robert and his words, “I wanted to make history, but I’m a little late to the game”.
But you – you still have time.
Do the uncomfortable thing.
You still have time to make history.